Unilever New Zealand employees sure have something to celebrate. The company is implementing a four-day work week strategy while still giving employees full salaries.

British multinational consumer goods company Unilever is now ready to try out a four-day work week for all its New Zealand employees. This means longer weekends, shorter work days and more work-life balance.

Unilever said all 81 staff members at its offices across New Zealand would be able to participate in the trial, starting next week and running for 12 months until December next year. The employees will still be paid their full five days’ worth of salary while working just four.

Unilever, which imports and distributes Lipton tea, Dove soap, Vaseline and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, is the latest to experiment with the long-discussed four-day work week. However, there is no manufacturing in New Zealand and all the staff are in sales, distribution and marketing.

The main aim of this new policy is to change the way work is done, not increase the working hours on four days, explained Nick Bangs, the managing director for Unilever New Zealand.

“If we end up in a situation where the team is working four extended days then we miss the point of this,” he said. “We don’t want our team to have really long days, but to bring material change in the way they work.”

After 12 months, Unilever will assess the outcome of the lesser work-day policy and look at how it could work for its 155,000 employees globally.

“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,” he said.

New Zealand has been debating about shorter work week for a while now. Estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian made headlines in 2019 for pioneering the idea with its 250 staff. They declared that it had see big productivity increases.

“For us this is about our company getting improved productivity from greater workplace efficiencies … there’s no downside for us,” he said.

The idea gained momentum this year when the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, encouraged firms to look at four-day work weeks to offer flexibility to employees amid the coronavirus pandemic. She also said it may help boost domestic tourism while international borders remained shut.

“When the prime minister talked about it in the context of what the future of work would look like, that was encouragement for us,” Bangs said.

Some business and productivity experts say the concept may finally get a serious look amid a pandemic that has altered how billions live and work around the globe.

The New Zealand government has not yet adopted the idea itself.


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