Why a four day working week is a great idea for parents

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 Photo: Getty Images

How would a four-day working week, or other flexible work offerings, benefit your family?

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has called for a national debate on the future of workplace structures. It's not often that I say this about politicians, but: he's right; the current standard five-day, 40-plus hour weeks were established in a different time.

It's a structure that was created in old-fashioned workplaces, and it's simply out-dated.

As a society, we've changed over the years. While our grandfathers and great-grandfathers gratefully clocked on and clocked off, and then came home to relax with a nice home-cooked meal and a quiet drink – life has changed. We now have households in which both genders work outside the home, and every parent is expected to be highly involved in family life too.

It's well and truly time for workplaces to meet the needs of us all.

Please don't mistake this for a call for workplaces to lower their productivity. In fact, a decrease in working hours is seen as increased productivity in some nations, such as Sweden. Long hours don't attain productivity.

So what does create a productive workforce? Research tells us time and time again that productive employees are those who are mentally and physically well – and while good work can contribute to those things, the fact is that maintaining our health requires some time away from our jobs.

Why time off benefits parents

Like millions of others around the country, I work hard at my job and when the end of the week rolls around I'm ready for a change of pace.

As a parent, though, that change of pace simply isn't attainable on a two-day weekend. Those two days are spent at kids' sports, kids' birthday parties, and generally squirrelling behind the scenes so my children can enjoy some well-earned fun after their long week at school. (I should add here that I'd also love a four-day week for the kids – but I know that's likely to be a very unpopular view.)

Because I work for myself I've allowed my weeks to evolve into four days of work, although I still consider myself someone who works full-time. Those four days are jam-packed, and my productivity is highly driven by the lure of a day off on that fifth day.

When my kids were younger that day off was a chance to spend more time with them, making weekends a little more relaxed. Now that my kids are at school and preschool, though, that day is – and doesn't this sound luxurious? – all mine. I use it for a combination of things: for exercising, catching up with friends, working on projects I want to pursue, and preparing for family life over the coming week.

It's the down time that means by the weekend, I'm ready to switch on for some concentrated family time.

And by Monday I'm recharged, both by looking after myself and spending time with my family, ready to put my head down again.

What do parents need from the workforce?

"It's time we recognised there are big questions we're not asking ourselves," Di Natale said on Lateline. "What sort of society do we want to be? What does the future of work in this country look like?"

I believe we want to be a society that values ourselves as individuals and as a community, so much so that we want to be well-rounded, healthy people. I believe we want to be parents who have more time for our families, and who look after ourselves.

The needs of parents have changed, and it's simply time for workplaces to catch up. Whether that's a standard four-day week, shorter working days, or something else entirely, I'm not sure, but Di Natale is right when he says it's time these issues are debated.

Ultimately, though, we're ready for a workplace structure that does two things: provides options, and looks after our health.

That's the future of work in Australia.