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Iceland trial proves four-day workweeks can boost productivity and employee well-being

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Jul 07, 2021 7:21 pm

A report from Iceland's Association for Democracy and Sustainability (ALDA) and English think tank Autonomy has found that employees working fewer work hours produce the same or higher amounts of productivity than regular work hours. They also dubbed having shortened workweeks a "major success."

The trial followed 2,500 Icelandic workers from 2015 to 2019 who went from a 40 hour/week work schedule to a 35 or 36 hours/week set-up. The employees received no pay reduction and came from different work sectors such as offices, schools, social service providers, to hospitals.

The shortened work hours were brought about by demands from trade unions and civil society organizations.

Over the course of the four years, qualitative and quantitative data showed that workers' productivity "remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces." Employees also reported "greater well-being, improved work-life balance, and a better cooperative spirit in the workplace."

To produce ample output while lessening the hours, changes were implemented such as shortening meetings (one company decided to not have meetings after 3 PM), prioritizing individual daily tasks, strategically delegating tasks per staff, removing longer coffee breaks, and deciding when meetings could just be emails.

Ant Rozetsky (Unsplash)

"The key to achieving shorter hours was often flexibility in how tasks were completed, how hours of work and shifts were constructed, combined with interest and engagement in the process of shortening hours from the workplace," ALDA explained in their summary report.

Aside from the benefit to private workers, the trials also found that the revenue and output remained neutral for city council and government workers, thus "providing a crucial, and so far largely overlooked blueprint of how future trials might be organized in other countries around the world."

Iceland is not the only country trying out shortened workweeks, as Microsoft Japan cut back on their working hours in 2019 and saw a 40% boost in productivity.

“Work a short time, rest well, and learn a lot,” shared Microsoft Japan president and CEO Takuya Hirano. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time."

Photo from Maria Gogh via Unsplash