Iceland 4-day work week an 'overwhelming success', productivity same

Shorter hours for the same pay.

Ashley Tan | July 11, 2021, 05:11 PM

Several trials for a shorter work week conducted in Iceland saw such positive results that 86 per cent of the country's workforce is now working fewer hours or gaining the right to shorten their hours.

Two large-scale trials were carried out from 2015 to 2019 where 2,500 workers had a reduced work week of 35-36 hours — essentially a four-day work week — while receiving the same pay as one does for a five-day work week.

A variety of workplaces were included in the study, ranging from offices, preschools, social service providers and hospitals.

The study was initiated by the Reykjavik City Council and the Icelandic national government following demands from trade unions and civil society organisations for shorter work weeks, The Washington Post reported.

The results were subsequently analysed by researchers from UK think tank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland.

Less stress, more work-life balance

The study showed that despite a decrease in the number of work hours, productivity levels either "stayed within the expected levels of variation, or rose" during the trial.

This was a key finding, as it challenged the common idea that a shorter work week would lower productivity.

Workers also reported improvements in their wellbeing at work.

Workers said they felt less stressed and more energised, and had more energy for other activities such as exercise, friends and hobbies, which in turn had a positive effect on their work.

Additionally, workers experienced greater work-life balance, thus allowing them more time for themselves, their families, and to run errands and do household chores.

Researchers observed that during a follow-up review, workers also showed less interest in working at a part-time job, and were less inclined to refuse to do overtime compared to workers that were not part of the trial.

Trials in other countries

BBC reported Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, saying:

"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."

Currently, other countries trialling shorter work weeks include Spain and Unilever in New Zealand, according to BBC.

Previously, a German company implemented a 25-hour work week, or five hours of work on weekdays, to maximise efficiency.

However, the company's managing director reported that workers in this case felt pressured to produce the same amount of work within a shorter time frame.

Nevertheless, the company retained this new work systems. Employees were happy about the change and it also proved to be economically successful to a certain extent.

Iceland's efficiency with small population

Iceland's efficiency previously stood out in 2017, when they became the smallest country in the world in terms of population to qualify for the World Cup.

With only 350,000 people in total, Iceland beat major footballing powerhouses across Europe, such as England and Austria, to earn a place at the 2018 footballing tournament in Russia.

Iceland's current population stands at about 357,000.

Top photo from Unsplash