As Unilever – one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies – launches a 12 month trial of a four-day workweek in New Zealand it begs the question: is this the future of business?
Starting next week, all employees of Unilever in New Zealand will have the opportunity to work reduced hours across four days a week, while maintaining their current salary. This ‘experiment’ was inspired by another New Zealand business, estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian.
After testing a four-day workweek in 2018, the company reported excellent results. Improvements included a 20% jump in productivity, lower stress levels, and higher job satisfaction among its staff.
Labour activists, environmentalists and academics have also advocated for the four day workweek since the mid-1900s. Historically, improved psychological welfare of workers and reduced emissions were cited as potential benefits. In 1956, Richard Nixon claimed that a four-day workweek would arrive in the U.S in the “not too distant future”.
In May, Jacinta Abern also publicly encouraged companies to consider implementing the four-day workweek. She believed it would boost productivity, provide workers with a better work/life balance, and encourage domestic tourism.
This trend is not specific to New Zealand, though. In 2019, Microsoft Japan trialed a four-day working week and achieved what they described were excellent results. They reported a 40% increase in productivity, a 23% decrease in electricity costs, and other improvements to efficiency across the business. We’ve previously reported on Microsoft’s move to allow its staff to work remotely, permanently, indicating that the company is willing to experiment with how its workforce operates.
These potential benefits may have a huge effect on how the workforce and business’ operate in the future. However, there are many questions that need to be answered first.
Opponents of the idea argue that employees may feel heightened anxiety and have to work longer hours to finish their work. There is also the argument that businesses will be less accessible to customers if they are closed three days a week.
How businesses tackle these problems is yet to be seen. Nick Bangs, the managing director of Unilever New Zealand is committed to ensuring that longer working hours do not become a problem. He told the Reuters news agency that extended days would “miss the point” of the experiment.
Unilever is allowing employees to decide which four days they work each week. Contrastingly, Microsoft Japan opted for a set Monday to Thursday working week.
Although encouraging, the recent trials are still merely a drop in the ocean and are unlikely to onset any mass changes.
What is more likely is a continued emphasis on support and flexibility for employees. Given the recent uptake in employees working from home, businesses are increasingly striving for greater employee wellbeing and productivity. Whether the four day workweek will play a role is yet to be seen.
If you are interested in boosting productivity for your employees, check out our ‘9 Brain Hacks To Boost Your Productivity’ piece right here.