clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Iceland tested a 4-day workweek — and it’s an ‘overwhelming success’

Employees are happier and productivity hasn’t changed. Could other countries follow Iceland’s example?

An exterior night view of the Harpa concert hall and conference center in Reykjavik, Iceland.
This Dec. 1, 2011, file photo shows an exterior night view of the Harpa concert hall and conference center in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Gregory Payan, Associated Press

The world’s largest trial of a shorter workweek has ended as a “major success,” reported NPR. For four years, Iceland tested a shortened workweek. The final report on the trials — published this month — offers compelling support for the concept.

  • Iceland’s trial of a four-day workweek saw worker well-being increase “dramatically” across a range of indicators while productivity stayed the same or even increased, CNN reported.

How did Iceland test a four-day work week?

Between 2015 and 2019, 2,500 Icelandic employees from a range of industries reduced their work hours to work only 35 to 36 hours a week — without any pay cuts, CNN reported. Some participants had typical 9-5 jobs while others had nonstandard work schedules.

  • According to NPR, participants worked at “day cares, assisted living facilities, hospitals, museums, police stations and Reykjavik government offices.”

To cut their work hours, employees reduced meetings or stopped them altogether. Others took turns leaving early or shifted their schedules to start earlier. Some shortened their business hours or cut coffee breaks, NPR reported.

What did the results find?

According to the final research report, “worker well-being dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance,” said USA Today.

  • Simultaneously, worker productivity stayed the same or improved across the majority of workplaces, CNN said.
  • Working fewer hours led people to organize their time and delegate tasks more efficiently, NPR reported.
  • Those who worked fewer hours perceived themselves as having more control and freedom in their life, thus increasing their well-being, reported CNN.
  • After the trial started, men took on more responsibilities around the house, reducing household stress, CNBC reported.
  • People exercised more and saw friends more often, per NPR.

According to Will Stronge, the director of Autonomy, a U.K.-based think tank that co-led the research, the trial “was by all measures an overwhelming success,” CNN reported.

Stronge says the study “shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks — and lessons can be learned for other governments,” per CNN.

Will other countries follow this model?

Following the completion of the trial in Iceland, about 86% of employees in the country have already begun working fewer hours or have added this into contract negotiations — without pay cuts, reported USA Today.

  • However, Iceland is tiny. The whole workforce is only about 200,000 people, NPR reported.

Spain has also announced a similar pilot project that will run for three years and spend $42.3 million to allow companies to try reducing their work hours with minimal risk, USA Today said.

  • Individual companies — particularly tech companies or other large firms in the U.S. and Japan — have also begun testing shorter workweeks with strong success, reported Axios. However, these tests are still just tests that involve only a fraction of all jobs in the economy.