Iceland's 4-day Workweek Proves to Be 'Incredible Success,' Study Says

Productivity increased while hours decreased in the study performed from 2015 to 2019.

Permanent three-day weekends could soon be more than just wishful thinking. An Icelandic study released this week showed that reduced four-day workweeks are not only more efficient, but also helped relieve stress and burnout for employees.

Iceland's Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) and the U.K'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% of the Icelandic population — without reducing their salaries. The study included a variety of professions, including those who work in museums, day cares, 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 p.m.), encouraging emails over meetings, shorter coffee breaks, and limiting personal business and errands to be done outside of work hours.

A woman jumping into a hot spring in Iceland.
Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

"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 realization, as of last month, the island nation has moved 86% of its working population (a total of 200,000 people) to reduced hours 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 four-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."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles