Best known for its fjords, volcanic mountains, glaciers, and avant-garde pop stars, Iceland is adding to its repertoire, becoming possibly the world’s greatest proponent of the four-day working week.
New results from two trials — the largest in history — of a reduced-hour work week, showed no productivity losses, and employees reported less stress on top of a better work-life balance.
Could Less Be More?
Iceland’s trials were conducted among 2,500 workers (1% of the Nordic country’s working population) from 2015 to 2019. Working hours for participants were reduced from 40 to 35 per week, with no cut in pay. And data from the pilot, collected by researchers at U.K. think tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy, is already making waves across the island nation:
- According to the report, with fewer hours to burn, companies became more productive by shortening or canceling inessential meetings, cutting unnecessary tasks, and rearranging shifts.
- Employee well-being “dramatically increased,” the researchers said, and now 86% of Iceland’s working population is either on a shortened schedule or has permission to negotiate for one.
The curtailed workweek has gained considerable global traction in recent years — Spain is currently running a €50 million, 32-hour workweek pilot program for companies, and Japan’s government last month urged employers to allow staff to opt for a four-day workweek. (When Microsoft Japan tried it in 2019, the firm reported a 40% boost in productivity.)
Not Everywhere: A two-year trial in Sweden that cut 40-hour weeks to 30 hours at a public nursing facility for the elderly was ultimately found to be too expensive after the city of Gothenburg had to increase staffing there by 25%.
Work Smarter, Not Harder? And despite their workmanlike reputation and manufacturing prowess, Germans actually worked the fewest hours in 2020, averaging 1,332 per person.