- A trial of a 4-day workweek found improved wellbeing, work-life balance, and collaboration among workers — and importantly, no loss of revenue for the organizations involved.
- The trial, conducted in Iceland, was the largest to date and involved more than 1% of the country’s working population, which is why the results are so significant.
- The trial sets a precedent. 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now shortened their work hours or gained the right to do so, with other countries expected to follow suit.
Autonomy’s latest report Going Public: Iceland’s journey to a shorter working week concluded that a shorter working week not only improves wellbeing, work-life balance, and collaboration among workers, but it also remained revenue neutral for the organizations.
The trials were an “overwhelming success” according to researchers, and they are already paving the way for a new normal in Iceland.
The idea of a shorter working week is not new.
Back in early 2018, New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian experimented with the idea of a 4-day work week. The results were so positive, that the company decided to implement a permanent 4-day work week starting November 2018. Microsoft Japan also experienced positive outcomes from a 4-day work week. The company did a trial-run in 2019 and discovered that productivity levels jumped 40%.
Iceland’s trials are the largest to date, which is why their success is so significant. According to the report, what started as an experiment of a few dozen workers expanded into two trials that encompassed more than 1% of the country’s working population.
Why does this matter?
Because this latest research confirms, to a greater degree, not only that a shorter work week is better for workers, but also for businesses—including those in the public sector; it sets a strong precedent for public authorities and companies worldwide.
What Does the Data Say?
Researchers studying Iceland’s shorter work week experiment collected data on a variety of indicators, including wellbeing, performance, and work-life balance. The researchers found that reductions in working hours maintained or increased productivity and service provision and improved workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance.
To be able to maintain productivity and service provision while working fewer hours, organizations needed to rethink some of their organizational structures and practices—some organizations shortened meetings, cut out unnecessary tasks, and made shift arrangements.
The results challenge assumptions that less working hours means that less work will be done and that overall company performance would, therefore, suffer.
“The overarching picture that emerges, however, is that the Icelandic trials strongly challenge the idea that a reduction in working hours will lower service provision. On the contrary, they show that productivity can, in many instances, be increased through working time reduction; this is evidenced by the similar levels of service provision that were maintained in participating workplaces even though fewer hours of work were required to deliver them.”
As for the wellness part of the equation, workers reported feeling better, more energized, and less stressed. Because they spent less time working and felt overall better, they had more energy to engage in non-work activities—running errands, exercise, hobbies, home duties, etc.
Key findings include:
- Less stress at home, in light of greater time to spend with partners or on domestic activities.
- Greater time spent with wider family and friends.
- Increased time for oneself, whether on hobbies, passions, other interests, or simply for rest.
- Greater time for chores and domestic activities during the working week freeing up time on weekends, increasing their quality.
- Men in heterosexual partnerships took on greater domestic responsibilities, sharing out the division of labor more equitably.
The Pressing Need for Shorter Hours
The workforce is tired.
Survey after survey have found that employees are more stressed, more anxious, and more burnt out than ever. This, combined with the increased awareness in how the wellbeing of individuals impacts business productivity and performance, has created pressure for companies to figure out ways to better support their employees.
It’s also worth noting that the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization found a few years ago that there is “sufficient evidence for higher risks of ischemic heart disease and stroke among people working long hours, compared with people working standard hours.
A shorter working week is a step in the right direction.
What Are the Implications of Iceland’s Trial Results?
The size of the trials and the results—especially considering they were conducted in the public sector—could help push the idea of a four-work week into reality sooner rather than later.
In Iceland, this is already happening.
“Following the trials’ success, Icelandic trade unions and their confederations achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country. In total, roughly 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours.”
It’s worth noting that the positive effects of a shorter workweek were reported by staff and managers alike. Having managers onboard and leading by example was a huge determinant for the success of the trials and their continuity moving forward.
Iceland got the ball rolling… many will follow.