Research

Moving to a four-day week improves wellbeing and productivity

14 Oct 2021 By Jyoti Rambhai

A shorter working week benefits employees and businesses, study finds

Iceland has given workers the right to shorten their hours after a large-scale study in the public sector proved successful.

UK-based think tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) conducted two trials from 2015 to 2019 of 2,500 workers in Iceland – more than 1 per cent of the country’s working population.

Researchers reduced the working week to 35-36 hours without lowering their pay and analysis of the results showed that working a shorter week led to positive benefits for both the employee and the business.

The study found that productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of the trial workplaces.

Worker wellbeing also significantly improved, with staff reporting decreases in stress levels and burnout and a healthier work-life balance.

The trial also remained revenue neutral for both Reykjavik City Council – one of the public sector workplaces that took part in the project – and the government.

Following the success of the trials, trade unions in Iceland successfully lobbied to permanently reduce working hours for tens of thousands of members. In total, around 86 per cent of Iceland’s working population has moved to working shorter hours or has gained the right to shorten their working hours.

Jack Kellam, researcher at Autonomy, said: “The trials in Iceland are just the latest addition to a growing set of evidence demonstrating the widespread benefits of a shorter working week. 

“In the UK, workers have some of the longest hours in Europe, which has led to high rates of burnout, reduced productivity, and workplace cultures of ‘presenteeism’. With remote work during Covid stretching the day for many, UK workers urgently need a reset of their working hours.”

Kellam added that a move to a four-day week with no loss in pay could “drastically increase workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance”.

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