Iceland’s Trial of the Four-Day Working Week Has Been So Successful Now All The Country Is Shifting To It

A trial of a four-day working week in Iceland has turned out to be an “overwhelming success” and many workers are now moving to shorter hours.

Going to the beach, instead of work, pays out. Image credit: Wili Hybrid

Iceland has conducted a social experiment on the pros and cons of working a four-day week, IFLScience reports. The researchers behind the trial have now released their findings and they are really interesting, to say the least: not only did the workers involved report feeling less stressed, happier and healthier, some workplaces have also become more productive.

The experiment was a joint project by UK-based think tank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (ALDA) in Iceland. The full report is available here.

The trial, in which workers were paid the same wages for shorter hours, took place between 2015 and 2019, involving 2,500 people (over 1 percent of Iceland’s entire working population). The participants, whose hours were cut back from 40 hours a week to 35 or 36 hours, worked in a range of environments, including shops, daycare centers, offices, social service providers, and hospitals, etc, and involved workers who worked a typical “9-to-5” day as well as non-standard shift patterns.

Throughout the experiment, researchers interviewed workers and gathered data on their well-being and changes to the workplace. Interestingly, the data showed that productivity remained the same or even improved in the majority of workplaces. And for the workers, the benefits were even more obvious: their well-being showed clear increases across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and risk of “burnout,” to work-life balance and even physical health.

The majority of participants reported having more energy for other activities, such as socializing, exercising, and hobbies. Even more importantly, they spent more quality time with their families and completing household chores was more easy for them, especially for single parents. Men also tended to take on more housework and domestic responsibilities, sharing labor more evenly.

“I work less… For me, it is like a gift from the heavens. And I like it a lot,” one trial participant said in an interview.

Iceland is known for its socially progressive initiatives. Image credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi

The fact that productivity was either maintained or improved in the majority of workplaces was put down by researchers to better morale at work.

“Morale has been good here, and always has, but it got even better,” one manager noted.

“This study shows that the world’s largest-ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was 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,” added Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy.

In the wake of the apparent success of the trial, unions managed to renegotiate working patterns and now 86 percent of Iceland’s workforce has moved to a shorter working week.

“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, underlined in a statement.

While Iceland is known for its socially progressive initiatives, other countries are also pushing towards a shorter working week. Similar trials are now being conducted around the world, including in Spain and New Zealand. Even Japan, a country with a notoriously intense attitude towards work, is now encouraging workplaces to let employees choose to work four days a week instead of the typical five – or more.


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