Iceland’s trial of a four-day work week deemed an “overwhelming success”

four-day work week

Reykjavik, Iceland. Source: Square Lab/Unsplash

A trial of a four-day work week has been deemed an “overwhelming success”, with a reduction in working hours leading to improved employee wellbeing and better business outcomes.

An Icelandic study, conducted between 2015 and 2019, saw more than 2,500 public sector workers trialling a four-day week — that’s more than 1% of Iceland’s total workforce.

The trials included workplaces operating on 9am to 5pm hours, and those operating with shift patterns, and spanned a range of workplaces such as playschools, social services providers and hospitals.

The intention was to improve work-life balance, but also maintain productivity, or even increase it. Accordingly, the reduction in working hours was not accompanied by a reduction in pay.

And, according to a report released this week, it worked.

Joint-published by Icelandic organisation the Association of Democracy and Sustainability (ALDA) and independent think tank Autonomy, the report found “transformative positive effects” of a shorter work week, both for employees and businesses.

Productivity either improved or remained the same, the report says. And worker wellbeing improved across various factors, including perceived stress and burnout, work-life balance and general health.

“The scale of the trials, combined with the diversity of workplaces involved and the wealth of available quantitative and qualitative data provides groundbreaking evidence for the efficacy of working time reduction,” the report says.

Now — following the success of the trials — Icelandic trade unions have negotiated reduced working hours for the majority of workers in the country.

About 86% of the country’s workers have either moved to shorter hours, or secured the right to.

“The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too,” Gudmundur D. Haraldsson, a researcher at ALDA, said in a statement.

“Our roadmap to a shorter working week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone who wishes to see working hours reduced.”

Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, called the study “by all measures an overwhelming success”.

“It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks — and lessons can be learned for other governments.”

Would a four-day work week be feasible for the private sector, or within small businesses and startups? Let us know what you think.

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