Trials of a four-day week in several countries have been an “overwhelming success” and led to many workers moving to permanently shorter hours.
The trials, in which workers were paid the same amount for shorter hours, saw productivity remain the same or improve in the majority of workplaces, researchers said.
A number of further trials are now being run across the world, including in Spain and by Unilever in New Zealand.
Large-scale trials in Iceland, run by the capital Reykjavík’s city council and the national government eventually included more than 2,500 workers, many of whom moved from a 40-hour week to a 35-hour week, researchers from UK think tank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) in Iceland said.
A wide variety of workplaces took part, including offices, preschools, social service providers, and hospitals. Not all participants worked traditional nine-to-five jobs, with workers on non-traditional shift times also included.
Perceived stress and burnout went down, while health and work-life balance went up, as employees were given more time for housekeeping, hobbies, and their families. Both managers and staff considered the trials a major success.
The trials led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will shortly gain the right to.
Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, said: “This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success.
“It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.”
Gudmundur D Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, said: “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.”
Spain is piloting a four-day working week for companies, in part due to the challenges of coronavirus.
And Unilever in New Zealand is also giving staff a chance to cut their hours by 20% without hurting their pay in a trial.
This is far from the first time the benefits of a shorter work week have made themselves known. When Microsoft Japan trialled a four-day work week in 2019, productivity increased by almost 40%.
New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian permanently switched to a four-day work week in 2018 after their own trial saw productivity increase 20%.
Companies around the world have tried shorter work weeks again and again, continually confirming the International Labour Organisation’s 2018 report that shorter work hours typically produce happier, more productive workers.
“We should continue on this journey, and I believe the next step is to reduce working hours to 30 hours per week,” said Icelandic parliament member Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir.
Across the board, shorter work weeks have proved better for employees, employers, and society in general.
“For me it is like a gift from the heavens,” said one manager in Reykjavík, according to the report. “And I like it a lot.”