Four-day work week trial delivers sick leave surprise

A four-day working week trial at Australia's largest private health provider has delivered a marked drop in sick and carer's leave among frontline workers.

Stress levels have also reduced across all 250 workers in the first 10 weeks of Medibank's six-month experiment, the insurer's head of human resources said on Monday.

"That tells you we're not 'compressed work week' territory where (workers are) trying to get these hours done in four days," Kylie Bishop told the Australian Financial Review's Workforce Summit.

While the trial cut away 20 per cent of the working week, sick and carer's leave among frontline workers immediately dropped by 67 per cent in the first week of the trial, she said.

"And it's held into the 10th week," Ms Bishop added.

Kylie Bishop
Medibank's Kylie Bishop said stress levels had reduced among the workers taking part in the trial.

"They're now accountable for their own rostering and scheduling, so it's a lot more autonomy and empowering teams."

About one in every 15 Medibank workers are involved in the trial with productivity consistent with the rest of the 3600-strong workforce.

Rather than working harder and faster, teams had quickly found extra time by being strategic about the meetings they held, Ms Bishop said.

By the 10th week, about half of workers were taking the fifth day off.

"The idea is that teams essentially from week one start to look at ways to address low-value work - red-tape bureaucracy as we know it - and strip that up such that they can access this fifth day," she said.

Part-time workers are also involved in the trial and receive pro-rata time off.

The experiment is being monitored by Macquarie Business School's Health and Wellbeing Research Unit.

It is based on a model in which employees keep their full-time pay and maintain 100 per cent productivity while reducing their working hours to 80 per cent.

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