4 day work weeks and stronger leave : The top workplace trends we’ll see in 2023

4 day work weeks and stronger leave policies: The top workplace trends we’ll see in 2023

By Emma Walsh

In many respects the illusive future of work has arrived – the monumental shifts in how and where we work that have occurred over the past three years are vast and have tested the boundaries of the employee-employer relationship at work and at home like never before.  Flexible work took on a whole new dimension as homes turned into workplaces and with it, employees’ work patterns, habits and commute changed dramatically.  

So will this momentum continue through 2023? Or are we set to see some progress made actually reverse or be rolled back completely, as some workplaces push to return to the pre-COVID ‘norms’ of the past?

Certainly, we can expect some rollbacks and reversals on workplace policies. 

But we may also see some positive shifts firmly remain on the priority agenda in favour of supporting employee wellbeing, as well as acknowledging the care and family responsibilities they have outside of paid work.

And with the tight jobs market expected to continue, and employers having to fight to attain and retain the best team members, we can expect to see an upward trend in employers doubling down on their efforts to make sure their workplace is an appealing proposition, particularly for employees to whom lifestyle and family time really matters.

Below are some of the trends we’ll see in 2023.  

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The four day work week gains (further) momentum 

The four day work week gained significant attention in 2022, thanks to a massive study in the United Kingdom followed by a similar initiative rolled out in Australia, as well as some major employers like Unilever announcing it is implementing the workplace strategy across its local offices. 

Just this week, news broke that 100 more major companies in the UK will be joining the 4-Day Week campaign, which will see them offering employees a 32 hour work week with no loss of pay. In 2022, we can expect to see this modern approach to the work week entering the mainstream, with large employers officially rolling it out in Australia, as well as small and medium sized businesses and startups also following the lead. 

Work-from-home options continue to dominate employee searches

The Covid pandemic pushed options for working from home significantly and suddenly back in 2020, but in 2023 we will see that such options are (mostly) here to stay, especially given the high priority job seekers are placing on remote work. As Seek reports, the term “work from home” continues to be the number one search term across its jobs platform, a trend employers will need to leverage as they fight for talent in a tight jobs market. 

While some employers may have hoped to roll back part or all of the “work from home” opportunities that are now afforded to employees, the reality is that many workers across Australia have now shifted out of metropolitan areas, and/or have grown used to a daily/weekly routine that incorporates things that can’t be achieved by being in the office 9 to 5, Monday to Friday – such as dropping or picking up the kids from school or going for a run mid-morning. Many Australians have also had more than three years to adapt their homes to accommodate what they need to be effective at work, and will want to continue to take advantage of their at-home setup. 

‘Primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer labels removed

The ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer labels that are typically applied to paid parental leave policies are on their way out in Australia, thanks to a number of major employers like KPMG, ING, and Baker McKenzie removing such definitions to enable ALL staff to access the same policies on paid parental leave, regardless of whether they are mothers, fathers, adoptive parents or something else. Also helping are shifts in government-paid parental leave, with the Albanese Government keen to promote flexibility in the reforms scheme offered, and more options for men to take the leave. In 2023, we can expect a huge number of employers shifting to label-free paid parental leave and making intentional moves to encourage more men to take parental leave. 

More employers will offer paid parental leave 

Currently, three in five employers offer access to paid parental leave in addition to the government-paid scheme, either to both women and men or to women only, according to figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. 

In 2023, we can expect to see the proportion of employees who don’t currently have access to shrink – in line with the upwards trend in employers offering such leave over the past five years. Employers will be watching closely the policy shifts that are occurring at the Federal level and the push by the Albanese Government to see more employers complementing the government paid scheme. Particularly, we can expect to see more small and medium sized businesses offering paid parental leave, as they increasingly appreciate the opportunity and business case for supporting new parents and carers. 

More superannuation on parental leave 

Paying superannuation during paid parental leave is often a small cost for employers, but a meaningful one that shows they are actively hoping to help address gender gaps in retirement savings later on, and acknowledge that nobody should be penalized because they are supporting and participating in unpaid care work. We can increasingly expect superannuation payments during paid parental leave to become the norm in 2023, rather than the exception. 

More paid domestic violence leave 

With the NSW Government moving to offer 20 days of paid domestic violence leave across the public sector in September 2022, we can expect more employers to follow the lead and roll out their own paid leave policies aimed at supporting victim-survivors. 

As more workplaces acknowledge their role in safety, we can also expect more initiatives to be rolled out aiming to create safe spaces for their team members, and programs designed to offer financial and psychological support. These could include access to temporary accommodation for employees and their family who need it, a program supporting access to “burner” phones, and more on-team “first responders” trained to support staff who may be experiencing domestic or family violence. 

Employers responding to new Respect At Work laws 

With the Resect At Work legislation passing the Australian parliament this week, which will see an onus placed on employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment, we can expect some swift actions from employers aiming to respond and be ready and able to meet the new requirements. 

Under the changes, employers will now have a “positive duty” to prevent sex discrimination, as well as sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace. While employers have 12 months before the laws take effect, they are being encouraged to introduce the necessary changes required earlier. Such changes require ‘reasonable and proportionate measures’ for preventing sex discrimination and sexual harassment, which could include overhauling or implementing new policies and procedures, establishing new support mechanisms for employees, delivering regular training and educational, and collecting and monitoring data. 

More employers will adopt and promote family-friendly benefits 

In a tight recruitment market, employers will need to do more to stand out. We’ll see more organisations promoting their remote work and work from home options on job ads throughout 2023, to meet the fact that candidates are already filtering their searches to find these offerings. 

We will also see employers doing more to promote their family friendly benefits and credentials – for example, highlighting the paid parental leave they offer, within their job ads and promotions. And potentially noting the other forms of leave on offer, such as fertility leave, menstruation and menopause leave. These companies know such leave entitlements signal to potential candidates that they take the wellbeing of their team members (as well as their team member families) seriously. 

We expect to see more employers adopting the National Work & Family Standards and being certified as a Family Inclusive Workplace to show their ongoing commitment to greater work life wellbeing and removing barriers to workforce participation, particularly for those with diverse and varied caring responsibilities that have previously shut out from job opportunities.

Employers will commit to creating proactive action plans that support carers and other family friendly ways of working 

Employers will need to be more aware of the caring needs more broadly across their workforce and rise to the occasion to support their employees bridging the gap between their work and caring duties.

We can expect to see employers recognise that caring commitments is a normal part of many employees’ lives and proactively put in place caring policies and benefits that respond when caring needs increase and change. 

Employers will be need to be more vigilant in ensuring that carer discrimination is being addressed and ensure managers are proactively educated in how to accommodate caring requirements when designing jobs and allocating workloads. 

New and creative initiatives to “stand out” as an employer 

What more can employers do to stand out as the top place for people to work? 

Through 2022, we’ve seen great employers getting increasingly creative on what they are offering their people, such as initiatives to support mental health and raise awareness on mental health, as well as new forms of leave to highlight the different needs of culturally diverse talent. 

More will want to show 

And 2023 is guaranteed to present more such unique offerings. 

It’s no longer enough to offer a “dream job” or even the best and most competitive pay, companies need to be working to support the full well-being of team members, as well as their families and life outside of work. 

*Emma Walsh is the CEO of Parents At Work, a global education and policy advisor business that campaigns for parental leave equality to create more family friendly workplaces.

*This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda

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