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New year-long trial of four day working week announced in New Zealand

The multinational consumer goods company Unilever is to experiment with a four-day workweek for all its office employees in New Zealand, slashing their hours by about 20 per cent while keeping pay the same.

Starting next week, the trial is expected to last until December 2021. The company said it will then assess the results before taking a call on whether to roll out the system to all of its 155,000 employees across the globe.

Nick Bangs, managing director of Unilever New Zealand, told the Reuters news agency, that their aim was to change the way work was done, not to stretch the same hours over a smaller number of days.

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

“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.

The company behind Lipton tea and Dove soap has only 81 employees in New Zealand, working on sales, distribution and marketing. It does not have a manufacturing unit in the country. Mr Bangs told the Financial Times that he was “very conscious” that more thought would be needed to transition to a four-day workweek at its manufacturing sites.

The trial comes amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit economies across the world. There have been several pushes for the idea of a four-day working week in the pre-pandemic world, though there is no consensus on how it may affect companies.

While a number of studies have shown both workplace productivity and employee satisfaction go up considerably under a compressed work schedule, critics have argued that the practice would send many businesses into losses.

Microsoft tested out a four-day workweek in its Japan office in August last year and found that it led to more efficient meetings, happier workers and boosted productivity by a staggering 40 per cent.

More recently, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern encouraged firms to look at four-day weeks to offer flexibility to employees amid the pandemic.

Perpetual Guardian, an estate planning firm in New Zealand, had hit the headlines in 2018 after they successfully trialled the four-day week. It was such a success that the company decided to make the change permanent, thereby granting three days off a week to all its 240 staff.

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