Unilever to trial four-day work week

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch consumer goods multinational. Photo: Getty
Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch consumer goods multinational. Photo: Getty

Consumer goods giant Unilever (UL) is set to begin a year-long four-day working week trial in New Zealand.

Next week, the 81 staff members at the Kiwi outpost of the Anglo-Dutch company will benefit from 100% pay at around 80% hours.

The company, purveyor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Marmite and Dove soap, said it will conduct a review after a year, with the potential to extend the change to its 155,000 other employees globally.

Nick Bangs, Unilever’s New Zealand managing director, told 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?’”

Bangs said that the trial would last for enough time to allow it to get through the initial “honeymoon phase.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: European politicians call for four-day working week

Since the pandemic disrupted working patterns around the world there have been calls for a change in the way we work permanently, from more flexibility in working from home, to reduced hours.

Debate over whether a four-day working week would be a good thing for workers has also been rife.

A report that published in July by leading UK think tank the Resolution Foundation found calls for a four-day working week “ignore the reality” of life for many low-earners who need more hours on the clock.

It said that a gap in paid hours has widened between better-off and less well-off households, and the gender gap persists when it comes to unpaid labour.

Business groups have also previously said it would not solve productivity issues the UK faced even before the COVID-19 crisis.

But as companies begin to offer a shorter working week at full pay, perceptions may begin to shift.

Microsoft (MSFT) is among others that have also trialled a shorter week, and previously said that employee productivity rose when it brought in the measure in August for some of its staff in Japan, a culture which has some of the longest average working hours in the world.

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