UTS researchers to evaluate Unilever NZ four-day work week

UTS Business School researchers will measure the impact of global corporate Unilever allowing employees to work four days a week on full pay at their New Zealand office. The study will focus on productivity and wellbeing across the one-year trial.

Participating employees will retain their salaries at 100 percent while working only 80 per cent of the time, with flexibility to determine when and how they will work best within the new structure.

“The Covid-19 upheaval of standard working practices has given momentum to the potential for a four-day work week,” said Professor Bronwen Dalton, Head of UTS Management.

“We’ve learned during the pandemic that work is not tied to time and space the way it used to be. We can work anywhere. And any time. We’ve seen improvements in digital technology, and we’ve become more comfortable and confident using it.

“Though this collaboration, we hope to better understand both business and employee outcomes of this new way of working, as well as share these lessons with other businesses,” she said.

UTS senior lecturer in human resource management, Dr Robyn Johns, said there are likely to be advantages for both employees and the organisation.

“For the employee, the benefits are concerned with both on the job and off the job facets of job satisfaction; for the organisation the advantages are related to various dimensions of productivity including reduced turnover, absenteeism, and tardiness,” she said.

Unilever New Zealand Managing Director Nick Bangs said the aim of the 4-day work week trial, which will run until December 2021, is to improve staff wellbeing and increase productivity while maintaining a competitive edge.

“The initiative builds off Unilever’s ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business. This is about removing the barriers that limit value creation and slow us down, and focusing our energies on creating impact and delivering results,” said Mr Bangs.

“Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time. We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose,” he said.

Professor Dalton said the push for a four-day work week is accelerating because firms want to attract the best and brightest employees, lessen their carbon footprint by reducing commuting time, and lower office space expenses.

To enable the move to the 4-day week logic, Unilever will train some of its employees in Agile, a project management method that breaks work into short phases, and eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy and tasks that adds no value. It’s about being responsive and adaptive.

“Greater flexibility in work-life balance can mean that employees can spend more time with family and friends, improving their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as enhancing their energy and focus to pursue their career ambitions,” said Professor Dalton.

“A lot of people think that maybe if employees are working less hours that it follows that less work will get done.

“In fact, one country that works some of the least hours is Germany, and it is a highly productive economy, so the numbers of hours worked is not tied to productivity, and research backs that up,” she said.

Unilever NZ imports and distributes a variety of consumer products, including Lipton, Bushells, Dove, Rexona, Lynx, Vaseline, Persil, Surf, Continental, Toni & Guy, Choysa, Ben & Jerry’s and Streets.

While the trial is limited to New Zealand only at this stage, Unilever will explore the possibility of what this could mean for its ways of working on a broader scale in the future.

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