Arts workplaces have long thrived on being highly collaborative and creative. But will they ever resemble pre-pandemic spaces again? Or are new-normal practices here to stay? Image: Marvin Meyer via Unsplash.
As we return to our offices, galleries and theatres across the country, we are no doubt filled with a sense of familiarity as our workplaces crank back into gear.
Yet three years on from the moment our working lives were seriously (and some argue irrevocably) transformed by the pandemic, it’s difficult to know how our ‘new-normal’ work routines will play out this year.
We’ve forecasted some big predictions based on recent global trends and policy changes.
It’s a common catchcry that the nature of work has changed forever. But has it… really?
Since 2020, some employers have invested in hybrid workspaces and flexible policies, but there are also rumblings from some corners that our work habits should return to pre-COVID conditions as the pandemic (hopefully) passes.
Read: Are ‘quiet firing’ and ‘quiet quitting’ real in the arts?
The good news for employees is that recent studies suggest our new flexible workplaces will in fact continue for the foreseeable future.
But looking specifically at the arts sector, let’s not forget that many workers in our industry do not have that same access to flexible work.
Can a stage manager realign their hours to better suit their family’s schedule? Or can a gallery attendant work their shifts from home? Of course they can’t. (Not to mention the countless performers, technicians, workshop facilitators and customer service staff whose in-person presence is key to our arts experiences.)
So, before we wax too lyrical on the new flexi-work revolution, we shouldn’t lose sight of the large number of arts workers who continue to show up for jobs which, by their nature, have much less choice and flexibility.
This question has become quite the water-cooler talking point since the pandemic sent so many of the work/life cards flying into the air.
At the heart of the debate: can we really be as productive (or more productive?) if our full-time working week is four days, instead of five?
Companies around the world have been trialling different versions of a four-day work week for some time. Most of these models mean that staff work a similar number of hours in fewer days, with notable case studies proving their teams are more productive, profitable and happier working four-day weeks.
But in the arts, the reality is that a four-day week has been many workers’ experience for years. Though in this case, it’s not been about a drive to improve productivity, but rather about long-standing underemployment issues.
Whether it’s overstretched budgets, government funding cuts or inadequate baseline resources – unfortunately many arts companies have been forced to reduce staffing levels in recent years.
Read: Anti-resolutions: 7 things (not) to embrace in 2023
But if more employers are now contemplating a four-day working week, could it be the moment that underemployed arts workers are better recognised (and renumerated) for the results they have been achieving in their reduced working weeks for some time?
The four-day working week conversation will be an important topic for arts advocates to watch this year, and is already highlighting some workplace inequities that are not uncommon to see in the arts.
It’s the question we all want an answer to! After decades of wage stagnation, will workers finally see their salaries shift for the better?
It’s something at the heart of the Australia’s Labor Government’s massive new IR reform bill, which was passed late last year.
The new employment laws are complex, and they passed through Federal Parliament by the skin of their teeth.
The legislation is also so fresh that employment experts are still scrutinising its details to work out the finer implications for workers and businesses this year.
There are, however, a couple of good news details that are already clear:
Number 1: The new IR laws are designed to make it easier for workers to band together across their sectors to negotiate higher wages. This is known as multi-employer bargaining. Multi-employer bargaining laws have been somewhat relaxed in the new bill, making it easier for more workers to pursue these kinds of wage negotiations.
Arts workers have not so far been mentioned as direct beneficiaries, but if you are a union member, now could be a good time to check in with it about your new rights to negotiate pay under the new laws.
Number 2: There are new rules relating to an employee’s right to request flexible working arrangements in light of their essential care duties. So, if you are someone with caring responsibilities and your employer has been resisting your calls for more flexible arrangements, this year could be a good time to revisit that conversation. Again, you can check with your union or peak body to understand more about how these changes may apply to you.
Read: 10 jobs to consider for a career change in 2023
While these small excerpts sound good, it’s important to realise there are still many details to be clarified, and many policies that are yet to be tested off the page.
In the meantime, the bad news is that there is actually nothing to suggest that wage rises are on the way for arts workers this year. So, if you are seeking a pay rise in the short term, you’ll most likely need to follow more traditional pay negotiation practices with your employer (which are typically individual or union-led conversations).
All in all, at this early stage of 2023 the year looks set to be a dynamic one for arts policy globally.
ArtsHub’s Arts Feature Writer Jo Pickup is based in Perth. An arts writer and manager, she has worked as a journalist and broadcaster for media such as the ABC, RTRFM and The West Australian newspaper, contributing media content and commentary on art, culture and design. She has also worked for arts organisations such as Fremantle Arts Centre, STRUT dance, and the Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub of WA, as well as being a sessional arts lecturer at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA).
Jan 16, 2023
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