Global consumer goods giant Unilever is to trial a four-day working week in its New Zealand arm ahead of a potential roll-out to its more than 165,000 workers.
Nick Bangs, chief executive of Unilever New Zealand, said from Monday its 81 staff would begin working four days a week while being paid for five – and no, that won’t mean its workers will be doing 10-hour days.
“The whole premise is not to do 40 hours in four days.”
Bangs said the business would not be shutting down as a whole for the fifth day but workers would be staggered and take either a whole day or two half days off a week.
“From a practical standpoint it doesn’t work literally turning the lights off for a particular day. So what we have got is very much a staggered approach.
“This is about the ultimate form of flexibility. We want to work through it with each individual and say, ‘What is going to work best for you to enable you to be at your best?'”
Part-time workers will have the same opportunity to work 80 per cent of their hours for 100 per cent of their pay.
Bangs said it would trial the change for 12 months – enough time to allow it to get through the initial “honeymoon phase”.
“We have got very big business ambitions that don’t go away at all. And we need to find a way of being able to juggle the obvious benefits that this brings from an employee wellbeing perspective but also fundamentally change the way we work.”
Bangs said that meant its focus was changing to output rather than number of hours worked and it will team up the University of Technology in Sydney to get an independent measure of the impact on its productivity and staff wellbeing.
Bangs said the decision to try a four-day week was influenced by entrepreneur Andrew Barnes, who trialled the four-day working week in his Kiwi trustee business Perpetual Guardian in 2018, before going on to become a global promoter of it.
“He has had a huge influence on us. He talks about this as being a mechanism to get people to think, work and act differently.”
Bangs said Unilever had several reasons for deciding to trial the change.
“This year has probably taught us that the way we worked in the past is really not going to be fit for purpose for the way we work in the future. We were thrust into this new way of operating and I think we have all, and I have certainly, learned a lot this year about what is possible.”
Bangs said the company had been working on the idea for a couple of months but only told staff about the change last Wednesday.
“We’ve had every single response, from some people saying, ‘This is not possible’, and others saying, ‘This is the best gift I’ve ever had’. So we are now in the process of working through individually and by team to work out how to make it work.”
Bangs said he personally hoped to use his fifth day to spend more time with his young family.
“I have got three young kids who would love to see a lot more of me. This is going to be fantastic for me to be able to on that day drop them at school, pick them up from school. I will be able to really put some energy and time into myself throughout the course of the day and just recharge.”
Barnes, who is currently in Britain, said it was humbling to see such a large company take up the idea and trial it in New Zealand.
He said the challenge for a large organisation was the temptation to overthink it but what it needed was staff to drive it through better ways of working.
Barnes said the four-day week could help improve mental health and the environment by reducing the need to commute.
He said one of his greatest disappointments was that the New Zealand Government, while it had made supportive statements, had yet to take the idea on board.
He hoped that by seeing one of the largest companies in the world try it out the Government would also sit up and take action.