Iceland tried a four-day week. Here are the results
One percent of the Icelandic population works only four days a week. It was the world’s largest experiment in this regard – and the results were positive on all sides.
Work only four days a week instead of five without sacrificing performance and productivity – can that work? Iceland tried. The largest four-day week experiment around the world took place in the island nation between 2015 and 2019. A total of 2500 workers participated – at least one percent of the country’s population. Instead of 40 hours, they worked only 35 or 36 hours a week, but received the same pay.
Two years after the end of the experiment, the researchers have now presented the results. And these are almost entirely positive: the four-day week in Iceland was “an overwhelming success”, writes British think tank Autonomy, which evaluated the experiment together with the Icelandic Association for Sustainable Democracy Alda. The report said there were “important lessons” to be learned from this for both workers and companies.
Four-day week significantly improves work-life balance
Looking back, many concerns turned out to be unfounded. In most places, reduced working hours do not impair productivity and services. At the same time, it was found that the well-being of the workers had improved in many ways. Many felt less stressed and reported better work-life balance because they could spend more time with their family or had more space for hobbies or volunteer activities. In addition, men in heterosexual relationships may have performed more tasks at home. According to the assessment, the risk of burnout diseases is also significantly reduced.
There was hardly any negative impact to be seen economically. “Overall, productivity and services remained at the expected levels or even increased over the course of the experiment,” the researchers said in their report. They attribute this to the fact that many people focus more on their work within a shorter working week than in the traditional five-day week. Instead, meetings were shortened and unnecessary coffee breaks were cancelled.
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Short working hours are becoming the norm in Iceland
The recommendation is clear: “The shorter working week in Iceland shows us that in modern times it is not only possible to work fewer hours, but that change is also possible,” said Alda’s Gudmundur D. Heraldson said. Will Strong, director of research at Autonomy, summarized: “The study shows the public sector is ready for shorter working hours – and other countries can learn from that.” There are now approaches in Spain and Japan, to implement the four-day week more widely.
Many activists in Iceland are convinced of this concept. “A short working week is the future, there’s no turning back,” said one participant in the study. Since the end of the experiment, some unions have renegotiated working hours, with a total of 86 percent of workers in Iceland now having shorter working hours, or at least the opportunity to do so.
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