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A secret weapon of mass equalisation: can a 4-day work week expedite workplace gender equality?

6 ways to make it work for your organisation

A secret weapon of mass equalisation: can a 4-day work week expedite workplace gender equality?

6 ways to make it work for your organisation

Featured UQ Business School expert: Associate Professor Terry Fitzsimmons

Could shorter work weeks – and longer weekends – make gender equality a reality in the home and office? It's not a silver bullet, but a 4-day work week may be a step in the right direction.

In 2022, a pilot program by the not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global discovered a shorter work week provides many positive outcomes for organisations and workers.

Shorter work weeks or flexible hours facilitate a better work-life balance for working parents, particularly the 72% of women who juggle the competing responsibilities of working with primary caregiving. This balance is also crucial for carers – 90% of whom are women – of older people and people with disabilities.

Australian men who trialled the 4-day work week spent more time on childcare and housework, while women’s share of these responsibilities decreased.

By reducing the traditional working week by one day without deducting pay, employees reported less burnout. At the same time, businesses saw increased productivity, engagement and decreased absenteeism.

However, The University of Queensland (UQ) Business School researcher and Master of Business Administration (MBA) lecturer Associate Professor Terry Fitzsimmons said the 4-day work week wasn’t a “silver bullet” to achieve gender equality and equity in the workplace.

Instead, businesses and organisations should deploy an arsenal of different approaches to create a genuinely inclusive environment.

Flexible work a silver lining of the pandemic

Drawing on a 2022 nationwide study into the impact of COVID-19 on gender disparity in Australia, lead researcher Dr Fitzsimmons said the widespread and ongoing adoption of remote and flexible working was the single greatest change brought about by the pandemic.

He said the 4-day work week offered a minimal form of that flexibility.

“Working from home was the silver lining of the pandemic,” Dr Fitzsimmons said.

“Depending on where you live, eliminating the work commute means gaining an extra 2 hours per day. Our research showed the majority of employees allocated at least a proportion of this saved time to paid work and were more productive.

“Equally as important was people’s ability to control how they prioritised when they worked, balancing their work-life needs to make efficient use of their time and working when they were most likely to be more productive.

Dr Terry Fitzsimmons
Dr Terry Fitzsimmons

"The 4-day work week model is a micro version of this flexibility where employees can receive some of the benefits of working from home."

“Working parents will benefit the most from the 4-day work week, where the fifth day may function as a ‘relief valve’ if they have that inequitable division of domestic labour.”

Read: How your organisation can address the gender inequality caused by COVID-19

Father viewing

4-day work week improves work-life balance

Research Fellow for UQ’s Institute for Social Science Research and study co-author Dr Miriam Yates said the research illustrated the importance of organisations varying working hours to support gender equality within the workplace.

“The 4-day work week offers all employees the opportunity to balance the responsibilities of work with family life and may support both women and men in navigating the unpaid work in their households and lives,” Dr Yates said.

“Importantly, a 4-day working week enables men to lean into the unpaid work responsibilities within their families and communities. It can be a way to equalise a responsibility often assumed by women.

“Our past research findings suggest organisations with high gender equality indicators are aware of this imbalance and seek out innovative strategies to support their employees in navigating competing demands.”

Overcoming flexible work stigma with the 4-day work week

From his research across 19 industries, Dr Fitzsimmons pointed out that the 4-day work week favoured the sectors that readily transitioned to work-from-home arrangements during the pandemic.

“This workplace change was largely experienced by non-frontline workers and those in essential industries where work could be undertaken remotely,” he said.

“However, other industries that rely on shift work, such as health care, may have to revisit the 4-day work week model to experience any benefits or consider other flexible options such as varying hours.”

Flexible working hours also remain heavily stigmatised in some industries. For instance, the legal profession has a billable hourly model of work that reinforces long contact hours and client-facing outputs.

Other disadvantages include condensing the traditional Monday-to-Friday framework into 4 days, which Dr Fitzsimmons said may place pressure on employees and lead to micromanagement and surveillance from supervisors.

However, Dr Yates said organisations could use the 4-day work week to overcome traditional barriers regarding flexible work and gain a recruitment advantage.

Profile photo of Dr Miriam Yates
Dr Miriam Yates

“Companies within male-dominated sectors, such as construction and mining, could use the 4-day work week to establish a competitive strategy to attract women and achieve better gender equality and equity.”

Dr Fitzsimmons and Dr Yates’s 2022 research dispels the negative perceptions of flexible working held by organisations pre-pandemic. The research reports increased productivity, with hybrid working arrangements emerging as the preferred model.

A worker standing in front of a row of solar panels.
A worker at the UQ Warwick Solar Farm.

Other research recommendations include investing in childcare, offering equal parental leave entitlements and reducing the gender pay gap by overhauling wage-setting systems.

Dr Fitzsimmons said successfully implementing the 4-day work week hinged on applying a gendered lens to Australia’s high-performing work culture that prioritises productivity while ensuring all stakeholders are on board, including clients.

“At a high level, you need an organisation with a work culture of inclusivity – it’s not just about diversity or numbers in roles,” Dr Fitzsimmons said.

“People want to be genuinely listened to and included.

“While it can be valuable to look at workplace initiatives implemented by other firms, such as the 4-day work week, our research emphasises that each organisation is contextually and culturally unique.

“So, it’s important to engage with your employees and clients to understand their needs and preferences and ensure that any initiatives work for everyone.”

6 tips to implement a 4-day work week in your organisation

1. Understand what gender equality means in your workplace

To quantify the impact of the 4-day work week, Dr Yates said organisations must first understand gender equality.

“Specifically, you must have strong knowledge of your own metrics and indicators of gender equality alongside robust data capabilities that underpin ongoing monitoring and reporting in ‘real-time’,” she said.

“For example, organisations could look at the composition of their workforce through a gender lens, building an understanding of their workforce demographics and how this relates to speciality, seniority and tenure as an initial starting point.”

2. Get everyone on board

Before introducing a new workplace model, Dr Fitzsimmons said it was imperative to have a deep discussion with everyone in the organisation and seek consultation.

Along with external stakeholders, he recommended using focus groups that are representative of different employee levels and clients to gather feedback, data and views.

3. Measure both productivity and experiential data

Monitor and understand productivity metrics alongside other meaningful indicators, such as employee wellbeing, job engagement, and team cohesion, for a comprehensive overview of the experience of the experience of gender equality.

Dr Fitzsimmons said these metrics were context-dependent in each workplace.

“Look at metrics around equal opportunities for men and women regarding career progression, paid leave uptake, flexibility, training and development,” he said.

“In other words, measure everything and then pay attention to where there are gaps.”

Read: Inclusive leave policies drive gender equality in the workplace

4. Trial the 4-day work week first

Dr Yates said undertaking ‘proof of concept’ trials using the anticipated metrics and indicators was an important first step to demonstrating the opportunities the 4-day work week may offer an organisation.

“Organisations may look to establish trial sites or test the 4-day work week model using one team as an initial starting point to explore the benefits and challenges this offers employees and the organisation," she said.

5. Gather feedback and communicate

Before implementation, leaders should communicate clearly with all employees about their expectations and any measurable indicators and productivity goals.

6. Don’t ‘set and forget’

Adopt a reflexive approach that prioritises ongoing learning and refinement.

Dr Fitzsimmons said once you’ve introduced a 4-day work week into your business, check in at 3, 6 and 12-month intervals to see how the model is going.

“This approach will ensure your business doesn’t miss opportunities to enhance its impact or integrate this new approach with other initiatives or strategies introduced to support gender equality,” Dr Yates added.


Organisations shouldn’t consider the 4-day work week as the antidote to gender inequality. Instead, it should be one of many possible strategies, practices and processes for businesses to consider and monitor as they work towards gender equality.

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Associate Professor Terry Fitzsimmons headshotAssociate Professor Terry Fitzsimmons

Dr Terry Fitzsimmons is an Associate Professor in Leadership with The University of Queensland Business School and the UQ MBA program. He’s the Director of the AIBE Centre for Gender Equality in the Workplace and Managing Director of the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC). Dr Fitzsimmons is also a member of the Business School’s Practice and Process Studies Research Hub.

Contact Dr Fitzsimmons 

Dr Miriam Yates in the Great Court.Dr Miriam Yates

Dr Miriam Yates is a Research Fellow with UQ's Institute for Social Science Research. She’s also a registered psychologist who consults with organisations on matters of strategic planning, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, and psychological health and wellbeing at work.

Contact Dr Yates