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December 2, 2020updated 09 Apr 2021 7:01am

Unilever to trial four-day working week in New Zealand

Consumer goods giant Unilever has launched a project that may lay the groundwork for a shorter working week across the business.

By Dean Best

Consumer goods giant Unilever is to trial a four-day week in New Zealand with all of its 81 staff retaining full pay.

The trial will run for a year from this month and could be expanded across Unilever’s broader network in the future. Most of the company’s staff in New Zealand are employed at its headquarters in Newmarket, Auckland.

Nick Bangs, the managing director of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand owner’s New Zealand division, said: “This is an exciting moment for our team and a validation of the catalytic role Covid-19 has played in shaking up standard working practices. Unilever NZ’s strong growth trajectory as a business makes this the perfect time in our life cycle to drive something new and ambitious.”

The move is being taken to enhance the well-being of employees amid all the disruptions caused by the pandemic, while the company still believes it can maintain its “competitive edge” from a shortened working week. 

“Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time,” Bangs said in a statement. “We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose. We hope the trial will result in Unilever being the first global company to embrace ways of working that provide tangible benefits for staff and for business.”

Unilever plans to train some staff to manage their time more efficiently under the project management system Agile, which according to the company “eliminates work that adds no value and unnecessary bureaucracy”. It will be working with the University of Technology Business School in Sydney to measure qualitative results of the trial.

“Gaining flexibility in work/life balance can mean that women and men, younger and older, can both take time off to be with family and friends, and have the energy and focus to pursue their career ambitions,” said Bangs. “Essentially, this is about a holistic understanding of how work and life fit together, and improving mental and physical well-being.”  

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