As It Happens

Why Iceland's 4-day workweek pilot was an 'overwhelming success'

People who work fewer hours per week are not only happier, but also more productive at their jobs, according to a large-scale pilot program in Iceland.

2,500 employees worked reduced hours for 4 years, saw greater well-being and productivity

A view of the sea front line and the city of Reykjavik.
View of the sea front line and the city of Reykjavik on Oct. 9, 2008. (Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)

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People who work fewer hours per week are not only happier, but also more productive at their jobs according to a large-scale pilot program in Iceland.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Reykjavík City Council and Icelandic federal government teamed up with trade unions to test the pros and cons of a four-day workweek.

About 2,500 workers — more than one per cent of the country's workforce — worked between 35 and 36 hours a week, as opposed to the standard 40, with no reduction in pay. 

"The results are hugely positive. Workers from all sorts of areas of the public sector are incredibly happy with their work-life balance, spending more time with their families, doing more kind of extracurricular activities — things like cycling, taking up new hobbies, and so on," researcher Will Stronge told As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue. 

"It's been an overwhelming success, as you might imagine … from the workers' perspective, but also one from the employers too."

LISTEN | The benefits of a four-day workweek:

Stronge is the co-director of the U.K. think-tank Autonomy, which compiled data on the trial alongside Iceland's Association for Sustainable Democracy.

The participants came from a wide variety of workplaces, including offices, hospitals, preschools and social services. Those who usually work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, had four-day workweeks. Others, who did shift work, saw their hours reduced in other ways.

But across the board, the results were the same.

In a joint report, Autonomy and the association found employees exhibited "greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better co-operative spirit in the workplace — all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity." 

"The most remarkable thing from my perspective, the thing which I think is the most maybe heart-warming, is the amount of time that people have for their family, the way they could reconnect with their families," Stronge said.

They kind of had a greater energy on the job and actually enjoyed their work a bit more.- Will Stronge, co-director of Autonomy think-tank 

While it's not surprising that people are happier when they work less, Stronge said employers were happy too. 

In the best cases, he says managers reported increased productivity. At worst, productivity remained stable. What's more, the experiment had no effect on the employers' bottom line.

Will Stronge is the co-director of the British think-tank, Autonomy. His organization collaborated with Icelandic researchers on the analysis of Iceland's four-day workweek pilot program. (Submitted by Will Stronge )

Stronge says that's because employees were less likely to suffer from workplace stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. As a result, they worked harder and took fewer sick days. 

"They kind of had a greater energy on the job and actually enjoyed their work a bit more," he said. "Which sounds very rosy — but that is what comes out of a lot of these trials, is that people feel actually more attached to the job. In a way, they feel rewarded by having more time."

The Icelandic findings are on par with other similar experiments around the world. Microsoft Japan tried a four-day workweek in 2019 and reported a 40 per cent boost in productivity. A New Zealand company called Perpetual Guardian switched permanently to a four-day week in 2018 after its trials saw a 20 per cent increase in productivity. 

Municipal employees in Guysborough, N.S., ran a four-day workweek pilot in 2020 and found it to be such a positive experience, they voted in April to keep the policy in place

B.C. Premier John Horgan recently said a four-day workweek is not "off the table" in his province, as Canadians emerge from the pandemic. 

"I think there is a bit of a sea change in terms of the conversation around working time, and we're very happy to be part of it," Stronge said.

And it's something he knows first-hand, too. At Autonomy, employees work 32 hours a week, and he highly recommends it.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Sarah Jackson. Interview with Will Stronge produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo. 



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