Four-day work week trial in Iceland hailed an 'overwhelming success'

5 July 2021, 09:05

The four-day work week trial took place in Iceland.
The four-day work week trial took place in Iceland. Picture: PA

By Emma Soteriou

The world's largest ever trial of a four-day working week in Iceland was an "overwhelming success" and should be trialled in the UK, researchers have suggested.

The experiment was organised by Reykjavik city council and the Icelandic government, following pressure from trade unions and civil society groups.

It took place between 2015 and 2019, with over one per cent of the country's working population involved.

Employees - including those on nine-to-five contracts and non-standard shifts - had their working week cut down to 35 or 36 hours without a reduction to their pay.

The trials were across different workplaces, such as hospitals, offices and play schools, among others.

Results from the pilot saw both productivity and wellbeing improved for 2,500 workers who took part.

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As a result, Icelandic trade union federations have since started to negotiate reduced hours for the whole country.

Researchers behind the scheme believe that agreements made between 2019 and 2021 have given 86 per cent of Icelandic workers the opportunity to work shorter hours.

The results were analysed by UK think tank Autonomy as well as the Icelandic research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda). 

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.

"Iceland has taken a big step towards the four-day working week, providing a great real-life example for Local Councils and those in the UK public sector considering implementing it here in the UK."

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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. 

"Our roadmap to a shorter working week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone who wishes to see working hours reduced."