For all its New Zealand employees, the British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company Unilever is preparing to try out a four-day working week.
Unilever said it would be possible for all 81 staff members at its offices across New Zealand to participate in the trial, beginning next week and lasting for 12 months until December 2021. The employees would be paid for five days while working just four.
The managing director of Unilever New Zealand, Nick Bangs, said the goal was to improve the way work was done, not to increase the working hours on four days.
“If we end up in a situation where the team is working four extended days then we miss the point of this. We don’t want our team to have really long days, but to bring material change in the way they work. It’s very much an experiment. We have made no commitments beyond 12 months and beyond New Zealand. But we think there will be some good learning we can gather in this time.”
After 12 months Unilever will assess the outcome and look at how it could work for its 155,000 employees globally. The company intends to share lessons from the trial with other New Zealand businesses.
In New Zealand, there is no manufacturing unit for Unilever and all the staff are in sales, distribution or marketing.
For a while, a shorter working week has been debated in New Zealand with the estate planning company Perpetual Guardian making headlines in 2019 for pioneering the concept with its 250 workers and declaring that it had seen significant improvements in productivity.
The idea gained momentum this year when the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, encouraged firms to look at four-day weeks to offer flexibility to employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. She also said it may help boost domestic tourism while international borders remain shut.
The New Zealand government has not yet adopted the idea itself.