Working Australians At Unilever Experiment With 4-Day Working Week

Could 4-Day Working Weeks Become A Reality? Photo by 2H Media on Unsplash

To be the best, businesses have to constantly be pushing boundaries and finding new ways to work, and Unilever ANZ has taken the challenge quite literally, allowing their Australian-based staff to trial a 4-day working week for 12 months.

The maker of Dove, Rexona, Continental and Streets products announced on Wednesday that from November 14, its workers would trial a four-day working week.

It follows a successful 18-month trial in New Zealand.

Chief executive Nicky Sparshott says staff will retain 100 per cent of their salaries while working 80 per cent of the time.

But the business still expects its targets to be met.

“We are only asking our team members to find 20 per cent of the hidden capacity that sits in any business and slows us down,” said Ms Sparshott.

“It is about removing non value-added costs, projects or processes and thinking differently about what meetings we participate in or how we can better communicate and collaborate.”

Under the 12-month Australian trial, staff won’t be expected to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach.

They will be able to choose the day they don’t work or spread the hours off across a number of days.

“Some staff in New Zealand decided to take one day off a week and they completed their MBA on that day. Others decided to finish early each day so they could do school pick-up,” Ms Sparshott said.

“We actually found that the trial in New Zealand was able to reduce meetings for an average staff member by three-and-a-half hours a week – that is 182 hours back in your life – so it’s a good starting point.”

Workers will also be able to split their four days between home and office.

Ms Sparshott said her staff were excited to take part in the trial.

“This is an experiment. We can hypothesise about whether it will or won’t work,” she said.

“But for us, this is an important part of exploring how we can be a better business and a better workforce, and ensure we meet the evolving needs and expectations of our team while remaining competitive.”

Many employers in the private sector already offer four-day work weeks, but often that involves employees working longer days to maintain their full-time hours, Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

The feasibility of such arrangements depends largely on the circumstances of particular enterprises or industries, he said.

“Given the tight labour market employers are generally particularly sensitive to accommodating employee requests for flexibility, but proposals to reduce working hours without making a corresponding reduction in remuneration are obviously unrealistic,” explained Mr Willox.

Chronic labour shortages meant there wouldn’t be much industry appetite for such an arrangement, he said.

The move by Unilever comes after the Greens on Monday launched a proposal for a Victorian four-day working week trial in the seat of Richmond.

The trial would involve a $60 million fund to support public sector and private businesses to transition to a four-day model.

“We’ve been tricked into believing that working five days a week is normal,” state party leader Samantha Ratnam said.

The trial would require businesses to transition full-time workers with no loss of pay or entitlements and either a proportional reduction in working hours or the equivalent pay rise for those already working part-time.

Whilst this 4-day working week is a dream for so many working professionals, we may be getting closer to making it a reality, as more and more leading Australian employers continue to push boundaries.

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