The four-day workweek makes strides

Unilever, the multinational giant that owns brands from Ben and Jerry’s to Dove soap, is the biggest corporation yet to give a big thumbs up to a potential four-day workweek. 

What happened: Unilver expanded its four-day workweek trial to 500 Australian employees after an 18-month pilot in New Zealand resulted in solid performance and happy workers.

  • During the trial, Unilever saw absenteeism (that is, workers playing hooky) drop by a third while staff reported marked drops in stress levels and workplace conflicts. 

Employees maintained (or even exceeded) productivity levels by working more efficiently, cutting out ~3 hours a week of unneeded meetings and sending fewer e-mails overall. 

Why it matters: If Unilver’s expanded trial is also a win, it will consider shortening the week for more of its 148,000 employees, which could push other big companies to follow suit.

  • Besides making for happier and more productive staff, a four-day workweek could also be a major recruitment tool in that darn ongoing global fight for top talent.

Yes, but: A four-day workweek will never be on the table for some industries, especially those that need to be available 24/7 like healthcare, emergency services, or transport. 

  • Even within one company, a shortened week might only be feasible for some roles, which could create tension between those who work four days and those who don’t.

In Canada: Last month, at least nine small-to-medium-sized businesses kicked off a six-month North American trial run by not-for-profit 4 Day Week Global. Researchers from Cambridge, Oxford, and Boston College will be on hand to see how it goes.