All of Unilever’s 500 Australian employees will be given the opportunity to take part in an 18-month trial working four days a week for the same amount of pay, after the same pilot in New Zealand proved overwhelmingly successful.
The concept of a four-day work week, where employees receive the same wage for working 80 percent of the time but with the same level of productivity, is gaining steam around the world.
More than a dozen Australian companies started a six-month trial of the concept in August, led by global non-profit 4 Day Week Global.
In Victoria, the state government has considered a similar trial in the public sector, while the Greens have proposed a formal trial in Victorian government departments and government-owned businesses.
British multinational Unilever has now become the largest organisation to launch a four-day work week trial in Australia, with 500 employees to be offered the opportunity to work fewer hours for 12 months from mid-November.
Unilever, which sells Dove soap, Domestos cleaning products and Magnum ice cream, among other products, recently completed a four-day work week trial in New Zealand, running from December 2020 to June 2022.
This trial found that the company’s New Zealand employees saw a 33 percent reduction in their stress and a decrease in work-life conflict by 67 percent, while the company saw absenteeism drop by 34 percent.
The New Zealand trial was assessed based on three company-wide online surveys and 57 in-depth interviews, in collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney Business School head of department of management Professor Bronwen Dalton.
“Unilever ANZ has been a pioneer in helping to create an evidence-base that can inform ongoing research into the future of work,” Dalton said.
The trial found that feelings of strength and vigour at work among employees working shorter weeks increased by 15 percent, 72.8 percent of those surveyed reported frequently sticking to their reduced hours and nearly 90 percent said the trial had been a positive experience.
It’s now hoped that these positive experiences will also be felt among the company’s Australian employees, while lessons from the pilot across the ditch will also be taken on board.
Two of the big takeaways from the New Zealand trial were that companies have to actively change how they work to successfully alter the working week, and such a concept should not be made compulsory for all employees.
Unilever also reported strong results in meeting business targets in New Zealand despite its employees only working 80 percent of their normal hours.
This was partly the result of organising fewer but more efficient meetings, sending fewer emails and implementing more efficient online communication among the team.
According to a Unilever channel and category development manager based in Auckland, the extra day per week gave more time to run errands and work on personal development.
“By getting the family admin done on a Friday it frees up the weekend to spend quality time as a family – fitting in something fun is important to me,” they said.
“I love spending time with friends – a nice long lunch, mid-arvo social drinks or getting away for a longer weekend. When working five days, I often didn’t have time to fit this into my weeks.”
In Victoria, the state Greens have proposed a four-day working week trial in the public service, running for two years and with $60 million in funding.
“We’ve been tricked into believing that working five days a week is normal, but if we can achieve the same results in four, as the trials are indicating, why wouldn’t we take some of our time back to spend with loved ones or on passion projects,” Victorian Greens Leader Samantha Ratnam said.
The Victorian government is also reportedly looking at a similar trial if it wins the upcoming election, with the concept included in its draft platform for the election.
In the UK, a large-scale trial of the four-day working week was recently launched, with 3,300 workers from 70 companies taking part.
Iceland has reported significant success in its own trial of the concept in its public service.