- Unilever is putting employees in New Zealand on a four-day work week for the next year, making it the latest major company to experiment with the alternative schedule.
- Nick Bangs, Unilever's managing director for New Zealand, told Business Insider the company is working with a business school in Australia to measure employee output and training employees on a more efficient workflow approach.
- Bangs and Unilever drew inspiration from Microsoft's experience with a four-day workweek in Japan as well as a local example in New Zealand as it decided to move forward with the test.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The concept of a four-day workweek isn't new. Leaders from Microsoft executives to former presidential hopeful Andrew Yang advocating for the alternative schedule.
But two factors convinced Nick Bangs, Unilever's Managing Director for New Zealand, to take the plunge and implement it for a year among the consumer good giant's workforce in the country.
One was the global spread of coronavirus. Bangs told Business Insider that Unilever was motivated by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's call for companies to consider more flexible schedules and work arrangements for Kiwi workers as the pandemic disrupted daily life.
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The other was the series of companies that have already experimented with the model. Bangs pointed to one trial at an estate planning firm in New Zealand called Perpetual Guardian, which actually increased employee productivity by 20% despite fewer hours in the office, according to The Guardian. CEO Andrew Barnes has said the pilot also led to happier employees, with many devoting more time to family and leisure activities.
"After hearing Andrew Barnes speak, I tabled the idea of the New Zealand business trialing this to our global leaders and received their full support," Bangs told Business Insider.
Whether Unilever extends the four-day week to teams beyond New Zealand will depend in part on how much employees accomplish. Bangs said that Unilever is working with Australia's University of Technology Business School in Sydney to keep track of productivity and other metrics.
"Our goal with this trial is to measure output rather than time," he said.
Unilever is also providing employees training on Agile, a workflow that asks teams to prioritize tasks and become more efficient. "It focuses on empowering individuals and teams and spending time on the things that will add the most value," Bangs said. "We believe Agile will be a key enabler of the 4-day week."
"For this to be deemed successful, we need great business results, our people telling us they have the mental and physical energy to bring the best version of themselves to work and our customers continuing to receive the same level of excellent service they always have," he added of the year-long experiment.
Unilever isn't the first major company to try a four-day workweek. Microsoft ran a month-long trial of the schedule in August 2019 and found that employee productivity shot up 40% over the year-ago period. Shopify and Shake Shack have also run tests of the arrangement.
"The results seen in other companies across the world motivated us even further," Bangs said of Unilever's decision.
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