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Four-day work week trial to start in Australia


An encouraging pilot continues in New Zealand and leads to a local extension

Four employees gathered round a table with a laptop, looking happy and engaged

Following an 18-month pilot in New Zealand, we are extending our four-day work week trial to our Australian business. This follows encouraging earlyl results from the pilot in New Zealand, which all 80 team members participated in. While the vast majority found it a positive experience, there’s still a lot to learn, which is why the trial is now being extended to Australia – a larger and more complex market.

Beginning on 14 November 2022, the Australian trial will initially run for 12 months while it is evaluated. Staff will retain 100% of their salaries while working 80% of the time and delivering 100% of business outcomes. This is known as the 100:80:100 principle.

The four-day work week is just one of the areas we’re exploring as we drive the future of work. In our social commitments – launched last year – we committed to providing our employees with access to flexible employment options by 2030.

New Zealand pilot: the details

The initial four-day work week trial, conducted by Unilever New Zealand, ran from December 2020 to June 2022. Unilever collaborated with the UTS (University of Technology Sydney) Business School, which monitored and measured the trial through online surveys, business results and in-depth interviews.

Several key benefits were seen. Over two-thirds (67%) of employees reported a better work–life balance. Individual wellbeing also improved, with stress dropping 33%. Meanwhile, feelings of strength and vigour at work increased by 15%.

The four-day work week is an extension of Unilever’s commitment to a performance culture that drives the triple impact of people, planet and profit. As Cameron Heath, Managing Director, Unilever New Zealand, explains: “It’s imperative for us to continue to deliver superior business performance, while also meeting the evolving needs and expectations of our thriving workforce.”

Professor Bronwen Dalton from UTS emphasises the continuing value of the study. “Unilever ANZ has been a pioneer in helping to create an evidence base that can inform ongoing research into the future of work,” she says.

Australia: a larger business

In the knowledge that there is still more to learn, we are extending the scheme to Australia. Our Australian business is larger and more complex than New Zealand, thanks to its manufacturing facilities.

“The experiment builds on Unilever’s ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business,” says Nicky Sparshott, CEO, Unilever ANZ. “Bringing the trial to Australia is an opportunity to explore different ways to unlock more value for the team and the business across both markets.”

How it works

Mirroring the New Zealand trial, Australian employees will have the flexibility to choose which day or set of hours is most suitable for them to take off, ensuring it also works for the teams they are part of and allows continuity for the business. Plans will be aligned in collaboration with their managers.

The Australian business will take the learnings from our New Zealand office, using existing technology and new tools to support more efficient work practices. The approach includes less frequent but more efficient meetings, fewer emails and the adoption of technology such as MS Teams.

“By removing project processes and protocols that add less value, throughout our week, we are able to free up time to work on items that matter most to the people we serve, externally and internally,” says Nicky.

In Australia, the results of the trial will be reviewed at the end of 2023, when the initial trial period ends.

The Future of Work

While at present there are no plans for other Unilever markets to trial a four-day work week, we’ll continue to use these small trials to experiment and learn about the four-day work week and the potential role it may play in our Future of Work plans.

“In the world of work, we know flexibility is key to attracting talent and having an engaged workforce. This trial is part of a much bigger commitment to engaging with our people to look at flexibility and new work models, with the aim of evolving, adapting and improving the experience of work,” says Placid Jover, Expertise, Innovation and Finance Chief HR Officer.

“It’s important to recognise that for a global company like Unilever, with brands in 190 countries and 148,000 employees working in a mix of office-based, lab-based, production and field-based roles, we won’t necessarily arrive at a ‘one size fits all’ solution,” he adds. “Our aim is to be responsive to the changing needs of our current and future workforce – who we know want to work differently – to test and trial solutions and create new ways of working that enable our people and our business to thrive.”

Other new ways of working that we’re exploring include U-Work, an employment model which gives employees the freedom and flexibility to dip in and out of assignments and have the security of a regular income and benefits, hybrid working arrangements and our in-house flexible working programme known as Flex Experiences. This matches people with project opportunities in other business areas and locations to allow them to experience different roles and build skills, without having to change their core role.

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