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Four-day working week trial in Iceland deemed an ‘overwhelming success’

World’s largest ever four-day working week trial in Iceland is deemed an ‘overwhelming success’ and ‘should be tested in the UK’

  • 2,500 Icelandic workers took part in ‘4-day week’ experiment from 2015 to 2019 
  • Participants reduced hours from 40 per week to 35, without any reduction in pay
  • Workers were less stressed both in office and at home, had a better work-life balance, and productivity stayed the same, researchers say 
  • Most Icelandic workers have since negotiated shorter working hours in their contracts, with researchers saying the scheme should be tested in the UK 

The world’s largest-ever trial of a ‘four-day’ working week in Iceland has been deemed an ‘overwhelming success’ as researchers call for it to be tested in the UK. 

Workers were less stressed and had a better work-life balance while bosses saw no significant drop-off in productivity or provision of services, analysts said

As a result of the experiment, which ran from 2015 to 2019, some 86 per cent of Icelandic workers have now negotiated contracts with permanently shortened hours.

Iceland’s four-year experiment with a ‘four-day working week’ has been dubbed an ‘overwhelming success’ by researchers who want the model adopted elsewhere (file)

Will Stronge, director of research at British think tank Autonomy, said: ‘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.’

The Icelandic experiment involved two separate trials that initially included just a few dozen public sector workers who were members of unions.

But, as the trial progressed, it expanded to include 2,500 workers in both public and private sectors – or 1 per cent of the country’s entire workforce.

Those taking part in the trials included police, healthcare workers, shop assistants, teachers and council workers, a report published by Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy said,

While the experiment has been dubbed a ‘four-day week’, in fact most workers did not take an entire day off work and instead aimed to reduce their hours from 40 per week to 35 or 36 – the equivalent of saving one full working day.

They largely did this by scrapping unnecessary meetings, shortening coffee breaks, and moving services online which allowed offices to close earlier.

As a result, workers said they were able to organise their private lives better – running errands in the afternoons or picking up a bigger share of housework.

Workers said reducing hours to 35 per week meant they had more time for hobbies and were less stressed, while bosses said they saw no drop-off in productivity or services (file)

Workers said reducing hours to 35 per week meant they had more time for hobbies and were less stressed, while bosses said they saw no drop-off in productivity or services (file)

They also saw more of their family and friends, and had more time for relaxation or to pursue hobbies and passion projects.

That led to a reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety both at home and at work.

Meanwhile bosses said that thinking carefully about how to manage in-office time meant there was no significant drop-off in productivity or service provision.

In fact, in several cases productivity improved. 

Overtime hours also remained flat, showing that workers had not simply moved in-office tasks to their private time.

And costs to employers also remained stable in every area except healthcare, where it became necessary to hire more staff to cover gaps in shift patterns. 

Gudmundur D. Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, added: ‘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.’

Iceland is far from the only country to have toyed with the idea of introducing a four-day week to ease pressures on employees.

Spain announced back in March that it was starting a pilot scheme to see if it could help spur the country’s post-pandemic recovery by creating more jobs.

Employees whose companies sign up to the trial will see employees reduce their hours to 32 per week, while keeping the same pay.

But not everyone supports the idea. Some economists have argued that working fewer hours would decrease the standard of living and the leader of one of Spain’s main business associations described it as ‘madness’.

‘Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less,’ Ricardo Mur of CEOE told a forum in December.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has voiced support for a four-day working week and the Scottish and Welsh governments have also set up commissions to explore the idea. 

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