University of Technology (Iraq) UTS research reveals success of Unilever four-day work week

The UTS study into flexible working arrangements at Unilever NZ is one of the most comprehensive to date.

Following one of the world’s longest four-day work week trials in Unilever’s New Zealand operations, monitored and measured by researchers from the University of Technology Sydney, Unilever Australia & NZ has announced it is expanding the trial to its Australian business.

Mirroring the New Zealand trial, Australian staff will retain 100 per cent of salaries, while working 80 per cent of the time, and delivering 100 per cent of business outcomes. Employees will have the flexibility to choose which day or hours suits them, ensuring that it also works for their teams and business outputs.

The expansion comes off the back of promising results from Unilever’s 18-month pilot in New Zealand. Professor Bronwen Dalton, Head of the Department of Management at UTS Business School, said this is the most comprehensive study into flexible working arrangements to date.

“The Unilever New Zealand four-day work week trial week produced successful, independent measurements. 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.

“In conducting this trial in collaboration with UTS Business School, Unilever ANZ is a pioneer in creating the evidence-base that can inform ongoing research into the future of work,” she said.

Results from the New Zealand trial showed strong results against business targets, including revenue growth, with the vast majority of staff reporting feeling engaged, and absenteeism dropping 34 per cent.

Individual wellbeing also improved, with stress dropping 33 per cent. Meanwhile, feelings of strength and vigour at work increased by 15 per cent. Work/life conflict fell 67 per cent.

In conducting this trial in collaboration with UTS Business School, Unilever ANZ is a pioneer in creating the evidence-base that can inform ongoing research into the future of work.

Professor Bronwen Dalton

Stakeholders and partners also took to the trial favourably, with 100 per cent agreeing that the NZ team completed work on time and to high quality. As a result of these positive results, the trial will continue in New Zealand to garner more insights.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand CEO, Nicky Sparshott says that bringing the trial to Australia is an opportunity to explore different ways to unlock more value for the team and the business across both markets.

“Driving a performance culture and maintaining competitive edge sits at the heart of the 4 Day Work Week.

“The experiment builds off Unilever’s ambition to enhance the wellbeing of both its people and business. 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.

“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”

Ms Rowena Ditzell, who is conducting her UTS Business School PhD research on the future of work and alternative work schedules, including the Unilever trial, said leveraging existing technology and new tools had enabled the development of more efficient work practices.

“Participants agreed that, thanks to better prioritisation, a reduction in meetings and other time-saving interventions, they were still able to complete work on time and to a high standard, while continuing to deliver for the business, customers and consumers,” she said.

“This included less frequent but more efficient meetings, less emails and the adoption of technology such as MS Teams.”

Ms Sparshott says Unilever ANZ is committed to supporting the wider Australian business community to embrace new working styles.

“We are excited to share our learnings, particularly as Australia navigates the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, and hybrid working styles become the norm. We’re proud to be leaders in equipping our own people and others for the future.”