Unilever is one of the world’s biggest consumer package goods companies, with brands like Lipton’s Tea and Dove soap and revenues in the tens of billions of dollars.
Today news dropped that their (relatively small) New Zealand office is about to start a 1-year trial of a 4-day workweek. If it goes well, it’ll become permanent, and be a model for other parts of the company to adopt.
The 81-person strong office will shift to a 4-day week while keeping salaries the same— just the model I describe in SHORTER.
As managing director Nick Bangs told the Financial Times,
“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’”….
His colleagues would still have to produce the same output, he added, but if they ended up working four very long days “then we’ve completely missed the point”. “This is about changing the way we work,” he said.
the company had been working on the idea for a couple of months but only told staff about the change last Wednesday.
“We’ve had every single response, from some people saying, ‘This is not possible’, and others saying, ‘This is the best gift I’ve ever had’. So we are now in the process of working through individually and by team to work out how to make it work.”
Bangs said he personally hoped to use his fifth day to spend more time with his young family.
“I have got three young kids who would love to see a lot more of me. This is going to be fantastic for me to be able to on that day drop them at school, pick them up from school. I will be able to really put some energy and time into myself throughout the course of the day and just recharge.”
There will be some internal changes:
In order to make the move to a four-day week successful, some employees will be trained in a new project management method.
It aims to break work into shorter phases, removing tasks that do not add value and any red tape that impedes workflow.
It sounds like the offices may stay open for five days a week— the FT reports that Bangs “is thinking of taking Wednesdays or Thursdays off,” and on The AM Show he says that people are thinking about taking two half days, or midweek versus Monday or Friday— and having a system where people rotate days off. (Some companies will stay open and have different standard days off for people: Home Instead Senior Care in Australia, for example, rotates days off each quarter for office staff. Others, like Danish law firm Kromann Reumert, have staff work out specific days off with their bosses.)
Now, New Zealand is one of the more remote outposts of the Unilever empire, and it also doesn’t do any manufacturing there. But consider this: at Ford Motor Company, workers on the assembly line— the heart of the company, and the production system around which everything else was organized— quite famously shifted to an 8-hour day in 1926, but that came after 3 years of internal experiments in the paint shop, engineering, front office, and other places. Innovations in the workplace often start at the edge, and then work their way into the center.