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Icelandic four-day work week trial shows ‘increased respect’ for workers

8 Jul 2021

An Icelandic research project has found that reducing the work week to four days has had very positive results for workers’ wellbeing and productivity.

Researchers in Iceland have found that a four-day work week has not resulted in any loss of productivity, with output even improving during the trial period for some workers.

About 1pc of the country’s working population switched to a four-day week with no pay cut as part of the trials, which were run by Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic government in conjunction with researchers from two think tanks.

2,500 workers from a range of workplaces including pre-schools, offices, social service providers and hospitals moved from a 40-hour week to a 35 or 36-hour week, with “overwhelming success,” according to researchers.

The trials, which were run between 2015 and 2019 led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86pc of Iceland’s workforce has either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will gain the right to do so.

This is according to researchers from the Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) in Iceland and the UK-based think tank Autonomy.

Will Stronge, director of research at 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.”

Workers who participated in the study reported better job satisfaction and wellbeing overall. One participant said they no longer felt like a machine thanks to the change. “This [reduction in hours] shows increased respect for the individual.”

Alda researcher Gudmundur D Haraldsson 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.”

Other countries are following Iceland’s example, too. Spain is piloting a four-day working week for companies following the challenges faced by workers during the pandemic.

Consumer goods company Unilever is giving staff in New Zealand a chance to cut their hours by 20pc without impacting their pay in a trial.

And Irish organisation Four Day Week Ireland recently launched a pilot scheme to overhaul Ireland’s attitude to work-life balance post-pandemic.

As part of the trial in Ireland, up to €150,000 will be made available to support research focusing on areas such as energy consumption, employment levels, staff productivity, gender equality and job satisfaction.

Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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