Unilever ANZ CEO Nicky Sparshott. (AAP Image/Supplied by Society Marketing Communications)
Unilever is the latest corporate heavyweight to join the four-day working week movement, asking its staff to maintain 100% of their productivity for 100% of their pay across 80% of their normal hours — and it’ll be made possible by ditching “low value” things like emails and meetings, the boss says.
Staff at a slew of Unilever companies in Australia — including recognisable household staples like Dove, Rexona, Surf, Omo, TRESemmé, Continental and Streets — will participate, though factory workers who are covered by existing enterprise bargaining agreements will be excluded.
The four-day trial will run for 12 months and employees will be free to design their own work-week as they see fit, a measure that means the cohort of participating staff will be absent across various days and times of the week (rather than empty offices on a Monday or Friday).
Unilever’s ANZ trial, and its careful designs, is all about driving a performance culture and maintaining a competitive edge at the multinational consumer goods company, Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO Nicky Sparshott says.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
“The experiment builds off Unilever’s ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business,” she continued.
“This is about trying new ways to remove the barriers that potentially limit value creation and slow us down and focusing our energies on creating impact and delivering results.”
This goes to the heart of the four-day working week movement, Inventium founder Amantha Imber tells SmartCompany. Imber moved staff at her behavioural science consultancy onto the model back in 2020 and has not looked back.
“When companies move to a four-day week, it isn’t about squeezing more work into less time, it’s about finding new and smarter ways of working,” she says.
“Employees who move to a four-day week typically change their work habits to use their time more wisely.”
Imber says her staff stress levels tumbled by 18% — no mean feat considering it was measured during a lockdown — while staff job satisfaction was up 12% and energy levels bounced by 21%.
But declaring a four-day working week is not a magic wand for businesses, Imber warns. It’s worth bringing in consultants or experts who can help employees to learn how to distil their working day, she says.
“At Inventium, we have worked with several organisations (including ourselves) who have moved to a four-day week to train people in better and more productive ways of working — to achieve a higher output in less time.”
Unilever will use the 100:80:100 model to bring their four-day work week to life, translates to 100% of the salary, over 80% of the working week, while maintaining 100% of the productivity.
It’ll be made possible by slashing “less value” items like meetings and emails, Sparshott says, as well as the use of staff collaboration technology like Microsoft Teams.
“By removing projects processes and protocols that add less value, throughout our week, we are able to free up time to work on items that matter most to the people we serve, externally and internally.”
It follows a successful 18-month trial at the company in New Zealand, which found 80 of staff took 34% fewer sick days, staff stress levels fell by 33%, work-life balance issues fell by 67%, and a zest for the job increased by 15%.
A quarter of Kiwi staff surveyed at Unilever said they had been continuing with the working model beyond the trial, while nine in 10 employees described the four-day work week as a positive experience overall.
The four-day work week also bodes well for the bottom line at Unilever; the conglomerate reported that targets for overheads, market-winning share and sales and revenue growth were either met or exceeded during the 18 months to June 2022.
UTS Business School’s Professor Bronwen Dalton headed up an independent team that monitored and measured Unilever New Zealand’s trial and declared it the most comprehensive study of flexible working arrangements to date.
“The Unilever New Zealand 4 Day Work Week trial week produced successful, independent measurements,” Dalton said in a statement.
“Through rigorous, in-depth academic research, we have produced a robust, multi-level data set that can be used to further refine the initiative over time.”
Unilever’s pilot comes as more than 20 Australian businesses — including mortgage brokerage More Than Mortgages in Canberra, social enterprise Our Community, marketing agency The Walk, and mental health organisation Momentum Mental Health — have joined a global four-day working week trial.
The trial, which originated in the UK, was organised by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy and the 4 Day Week Campaign, with all participating employees Down Under to be monitored by researchers at the University of Sydney, Boston College and the University of Queensland.
More than 3300 employees across 70 companies in Britain — from builders to financial firms — are over halfway through their own six-month trial, with researchers scrutinising productivity, wellbeing, gender equality and even the environment.
A pioneering trial in Iceland last decade involving 2500 public sector workers found less time in the office means less money spent on electricity (including air conditioning) and fewer cars on the road, which reduced pollution levels.
The pandemic saw a drastic rethink of what it means to work and Sparshott says this provides an excellent opportunity for the needs of businesses and of employees to be better fulfilled moving forward.
“Expanding the 4 Day Work Week trial across both markets is part of Unilever’s commitment to ensuring we deliver as a business, whilst also meeting the evolving needs and expectations of our team members,” she said.
“We are excited to share our learnings, particularly as Australia navigates the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, and hybrid working styles become the norm.”

Get the latest business news, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up
Get the latest business news, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up
Just fill out the fields below and we’ll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.