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Unilever to test 4-day working week in New Zealand

Unilever is planning a trial shorter working week in New Zealand. And Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, has said the pandemic offers a “hybrid future of work”. Dal Financial Times.

Unilever is to give advocates of the four-day working week one of their biggest boosts when the consumer goods group launches a year-long trial of the practice in New Zealand.

The company behind Lipton tea and Dove soap will from next week start paying its 81 staff in New Zealand for five days while they work four. After 12 months, Unilever said it would look at the lessons the trial offered for how the rest of its 155,000 staff work.

“I’ve got colleagues all over the world who are saying ‘Please don’t stuff this thing up because we want to have a go at it some time in the future’,” said Nick Bangs, Unilever’s New Zealand managing director.

He told the Financial Times that most of his staff sold or distributed Unilever goods and he was “very conscious” that more thought would be needed to make a four-day week work at manufacturing sites. The company does not carry out manufacturing in New Zealand.

His colleagues would still have to produce the same output, he added, but if they worked four very long days “then we’ve completely missed the point”.

The group’s move is among the most ambitious efforts so far to test an approach that advocates say makes workers happier, healthier and more productive.

A number of large companies have begun trials in the past two years, even though critics argue the practice would send many into a loss.

Microsoft said employee productivity rose when it offered a four-day week in August last year to its staff in Japan, home to some of the world’s longest working hours. US burger chain Shake Shack also started trialling the measure last year to help recruit and retain staff.

Mr Bangs said he had been inspired by Andrew Barnes, founder of Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand estate planning group. It drew global headlines in 2018 when it said that giving its 240 staff a day off at full pay for eight weeks had led to such big productivity gains it was making the change permanent.

Mr Barnes has set up a non-profit group to promote the four-day week, and in May Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, suggested such measures might bolster domestic tourism.

Mr Bangs said Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, who has said the pandemic offers a “hybrid future of work”, had offered “overwhelming support” for the trial.

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