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July 06, 2021

Four-day working week trial in Iceland an “overwhelming success”

Four-day working week trial in Iceland an “overwhelming success”

Trials of a four-day working week conducted in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 were an “overwhelming success,” say researchers from UK think tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda).

The trials, as reported by the BBC, run by Reykjavik City Council and the national government, ultimately included more than 2,500 workers, approximately 1% of Iceland’s working population.

Many employees moved from a 40-hour week to a 35- or 36-hour week, but were paid the same salary they previously received for 40 hours.

Productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces, according to the researchers. And workers said they felt less stressed and at risk of burnout, and reported improvements in their health and work–life balance.

“Working hours in most countries have been falling over the last 50–100 years,” notes Peter Dolton in his IZA World of Labor article. Drivers of this change include “changing demand conditions, shifts in preferences over labor–leisure trade-offs, active pressure from employee trade unions, technological advances improving workplace productivity, enlightened governments introducing maximum working hours legislation, and demographic changes in the pattern of work by men and women.”

The Icelandic trials have led unions in the country to renegotiate working patterns, with 86% of Iceland’s workforce now having either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or due to gain the right to.

Gudmundur D. Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, said: “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.”

Similar trials are also ongoing in Spain, in part as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in New Zealand, where the company Unilever is giving staff the opportunity to cut their hours by 20% without reducing their pay.

Dolton says, “Key challenges such as increasing life expectancy, aging populations, and inadequate savings and pensions mean that governments need to take a careful look at working patterns ...” He believes that “Modern economies need flexible labor markets with variable working times across occupations and sectors” if they are to face an increasingly technologically-oriented future.

Read Peter Dolton’s article on “Working hours: Past, present, and future.”