unilever, four-day workweek, shorter workweek

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This follows encouraging early results from the pilot in New Zealand, in which all 80 team members participated.

Following an 18-month pilot in New Zealand, Unilever is extending its four-day workweek trial to its Australia business. This follows encouraging early results from the pilot in New Zealand, in which all 80 team members participated. While the vast majority found it a positive experience, the group acknowledges that there is "still a lot to learn", which is why the trial is now being extended to Australia – a market it deems as "larger and more complex".

Beginning on 14 November 2022, the Australia trial will initially run for 12 months while it is evaluated. Staff will retain 100% of their salaries while working 80% of the time and delivering 100% of business outcomes, or known as the 100:80:100 principle.

Per the statement, "the four-day work week is just one of the areas Unilever is exploring as its drives the future of work. In its social commitments – launched last year – it is committed to providing its employees with access to flexible employment options by 2030."

The initial four-day workweek trial, conducted by Unilever New Zealand, ran from December 2020 to June 2022. Unilever collaborated with the UTS (University of Technology Sydney) Business School, which monitored and measured the trial through online surveys, business results, and in-depth interviews.

Having conducted this trial, several benefits were seen — over two-thirds (67%) of employees reported a better work–life balance. Individual wellbeing also improved, with stress dropping 33%. Meanwhile, feelings of strength and vigour at work increased by 15%.

The four-day workweek is an extension of Unilever’s commitment to a performance culture that drives the triple impact of people, planet, and profit. As Cameron Heath, Managing Director, Unilever New Zealand, explains: "It’s imperative for us to continue to deliver superior business performance, while also meeting the evolving needs and expectations of our thriving workforce."

As the group's Australia business is larger and more complex than New Zealand thanks to its manufacturing facilities, Unilever sees the extension of its four-day workweek programme to Australia as an opportunity to learn.

“The experiment builds on Unilever’s ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business,” says Nicky Sparshott, CEO, Unilever ANZ. “Bringing the trial to Australia is an opportunity to explore different ways to unlock more value for the team and the business across both markets.”

Professor Bronwen Dalton from UTS emphasised the value of the study in "helping to create an evidence base that can inform ongoing research into the future of work.” 

Trial process

Mirroring the New Zealand trial, employees in Australia will have the flexibility to choose which day or set of hours is most suitable for them to take off, ensuring it also works for the teams they are part of and allows continuity for the business. Plans will be aligned in collaboration with their managers.

The Australian business will take the learnings from its New Zealand office, using existing technology and new tools to support more efficient work practices. The approach includes less frequent but more efficient meetings, fewer emails, and the adoption of technology such as MS Teams.

“By removing project processes and protocols that add less value, throughout our week, we are able to free up time to work on items that matter most to the people we serve, externally and internally,” says Sparshott.

In Australia, the results of the trial will be reviewed at the end of 2023, when the initial trial period ends.

While at present there are no plans for other Unilever markets to trial a four-day workweek, the group will continue to use these small trials to experiment and learn about the four-day workweek and the potential role it may play in its future of work plans.

Placid Jover, Expertise, Innovation, and Finance Chief HR Officer adds: "This trial is part of a much bigger commitment to engaging with our people to look at flexibility and new work models, with the aim of evolving, adapting, and improving the experience of work.

"It’s important to recognise that for a global company like Unilever, with brands in 190 countries and 148,000 employees working in a mix of office-based, lab-based, production and field-based roles, we won’t necessarily arrive at a ‘one size fits all’ solution."

Unilever's aim is to be responsive to the changing needs of its current and future workforce – who the group knows want to work differently – to test and trial solutions and create new ways of working that enable its people and its business to thrive.

Other new ways of working it is exploring include U-Work, an employment model which gives employees the flexibility to dip in and out of assignments and have the security of a regular income and benefits; hybrid working arrangements; and its in-house flexible working programme known as 'Flex Experiences'. This matches people with project opportunities in other business areas and locations to allow them to experience different roles and build skills, without having to change their core role.


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