Permanent 3-day weekends could soon be more than just wishful thinking. An Icelandic study released recently showed that reduced 4-day workweeks are not only more efficient but also helped relieve stress and burnout in employees. By Rachel Chang
Iceland’s Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) and the UK’s think tank Autonomy paired up for the study that was run from 2015 to 2019. During this time, workweeks were shortened to 35 or 36 hours for 2,500 workers—more than 1 per cent of the Icelandic population—without reducing their salaries. The study included a variety of professions, including those who work in museums, daycares, assisted living facilities, botanical gardens, human resources, finance, medicine, and public safety.
Among the tactics used with the new schedule were fewer meetings that were more focused (one office banned meetings starting after 3 pm), encouraging emails over meetings, shorter coffee breaks, and limiting personal business and errands to be done during work hours.
“The trials were successful: participating workers took on fewer hours and enjoyed greater well-being, improved work-life balance, and a better cooperative spirit in the workplace—all while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity,” the study concluded.
Thanks to that realisation, as of last month, the island nation has moved 86 per cent of its working population (a total of 2,00,000 people) to a 4-day workweek or given them the option to do so. “These trials are therefore an incredible success story of working time reduction, of interest to campaigners and workers worldwide,” the study also said.
The move to the 4-day workweek is a philosophy being discussed around the globe, with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggesting it last year and Spain also testing out the reduced hours. A 2018 Australian study even showed that those over the age of 40 shouldn’t work more than three days a week.
Alda researcher Gudmundur Haraldsson told the BBC: “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.”