Unilever extends four-day week trial to Australia

Unilever has announced plans to extend its four-day week pilot in New Zealand to Australia, but says it is still learning what works best.

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Global consumer goods company Unilever is extending its four-day week trial to Australia, following an 18-month pilot in New Zealand, in a bid to learn more about how it would work in a larger, more complex market.

It says the decision comes after encouraging early results from the pilot in New Zealand, which all 80 team members participated in.

The Australian trial, which begins on 14th November, 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.

Unilever, which has been at the forefront of looking at new ways of working for years, says the four-day week is just one of the areas it is exploring in relation to the future of work. It has committed to providing its employees with access to flexible employment options by 2030.

For the New Zealand pilot,  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.

It found that 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%.

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 in collaboration with line managers to ensure it works for the teams they are part of and allows continuity for the business. Using the evidence from the New Zealand pilot, the Australian business will use 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.

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

Unilever says there are no plans at present to extend the trials to other markets, but that learning from the pilots will freed into its wider 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 the company is exploring include U-Work, a gig-based employment model which gives employees the flexibility to dip in and out of assignments and have the security of a regular income and benefits, hybrid working arrangements and its 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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