Is a 4-day work week the future?

15 Jul 2021

Iceland held trials between 2015 and 2019 to test out a 4-day work week and observe the results and note any differences. Recently, the results were published and took the headlines, confirming an "overwhelming success". However, this doesn’t mean that the whole world will follow as there is more work to be carried on. In short, the experiment was this: two large-scale trials of a reduced working week of 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay were run in Iceland for a few years, and the researchers –Autonomy and the research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) noted valuable information for both employers and employees.

Over 2,500 workers, about 1% of Iceland's working population participated in the trials run by Reykjavík City Council and the national government. preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals were some of the workplaces that took part in the study. Director of research at Autonomy, Will Stronge noted, “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 stated that this new work system caused them less stress and a lesser chance of having a work burnout. In addition, there was a decrease in sick days and carbon emissions. Remarkably enough, the study highlighted that shorter working weeks are just as productive as long days. "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,” Alda researcher Gudmundur Haraldsson said. 

Could this be the future? Well, it’s difficult to generalise and it’s a big statement to give. But it could be part of the future, especially as the world attempts to recover from the pandemic that hit the economy. For example, four day working week are going to be tested with Spanish companies whilst consumer goods giant Unilever will cut down hours by 20% for those in New Zealand without having pay affected as part of a trial. A four-day work week will also benefit us in protecting the planet, as we face the climate crisis. With less days out at work, there will be less carbon emissions out there, thus helping the environment. This was mentioned by Platform London back in May. 

Stronge said, “In the UK, we work some of the longest hours in Europe – and this has a devastating effect on our public health, as overwork is the reason for a quarter of all sick days, as well as our productivity statistics.” David Spencer, professor at Leeds University Business School encouraged the possibility of a shorter work week, saying, “This trial will hopefully jolt some UK firms into trialling, and adopting permanently, shorter work hours.”