In what could be first step towards a seismic shift in corporate labour policy, Unilever, the world’s largest consumer goods group, is to trial a 4-day working week. The trial will involve Unilever’s business in New Zealand and last for a year in order for the impact on overall employee productivity to be fully assessed.
Unilever, whose share price has, despite a recent dip, risen 1.7% this year thanks to higher household shopping bills over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, employs 81 staff in New Zealand. Starting from next week, they will, at their current salaries, start working 4 days a week instead of five.
If the trial proves a success, its findings could have major ramifications for all 155,000 Unilever employees around the world. Not all staff will work Monday to Thursday, as with teams elsewhere around the world, and colleagues in companies Unilever works with, working a standard working week. Nick Bangs, Unilever’s managing director for New Zealand explained to the New Zealand Herald:
“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?’”
The trial will run for a full year, which the company concluded would be necessary to accurately gauge the impact on overall productivity beyond the new approach’s “honeymoon phase”.
The goal of the trial is to gain greater insight into how Unilever can find an effective balance between employee wellbeing and competitive levels of productivity that won’t put the company at a market disadvantage:
“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.”
Unilever has a total of 155,000 employers across 100 countries and last year recorded revenues of €52 billion. The company also yesterday announced that its legal structure has been simplified by unifying all of its businesses under the single parent company Unilever plc. The group will maintain its three listings on the London, Amsterdam and New York stock exchanges but will now trade its shares as one class with a single market capitalisation and liquidity pool.
Unilever is not the only large corporation to run 4-day working week trials over the past couple of years. Last year Microsoft offered staff in Japan, a country with among the longest standard working hours in the developed world, a 4-day week. It said the trial resulted in a rise in productivity.
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