A four-day working week trial is set to take place in the UK after Iceland’s largest-ever trial was described as a “smashing success”.
Workers were found to be less stressed and have a better work-life balance, while employers did not see a sharp decline in productivity or service delivery, according to an analysis.
Pilot program in Iceland found workers less stressed and anxious (file photo)[/caption]
The reduced working hours gave people more time to pursue other interests[/caption]
The experiment, which ran from 2015 to 2019, enabled about 86 percent of Icelandic workers to negotiate contracts with permanently reduced hours.
Will Strong, Director of Research at Autonomy Research UK, said: “This study shows that the world’s largest-ever trial of a shorter work week in the public sector has been an all-round success.
This shows that the public sector has matured to be a leader in shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.
“Iceland has taken a huge step towards the four-day working week, providing a great concrete example for local councils and those in the UK public sector that they are considering implementing here in the UK.”
The Icelandic experience initially involved a few dozen public sector workers who were members of trade unions.
A pilot program found that workers did not see a significant drop in productivity (file photo)[/caption]
But it expanded to 2,500 public and private sector workers – representing 1% of the country’s workforce – as the lawsuit progressed.
Those involved in the trials included police, health care workers, teachers, vendors and municipal workers, according to a report by Autonomy and the Icelandic Association for Sustainable Democracy.
Although the experiment was referred to as ‘four days a week’, in reality most workers did not take a full day off but aimed to reduce their working hours from 40 to 35 or 36 hours per week.
The time saved at work was largely achieved by cutting unnecessary meetings, taking shorter breaks, and moving services online to allow offices to close early.
The workers said that because they saved time, they were able to better organize their own lives, such as running errands in the afternoon or doing more housework.
They also said they have more time to see family and friends, and more time to relax or indulge in hobbies.
Workers said they felt less stress and anxiety, both at home and at work.
The chiefs said that because they had to think carefully about how their hours were managed, it meant there was no significant drop in productivity compared to the ability to provide services.
While workers worked fewer hours in some cases, productivity actually improved (file photo)[/caption]
Indeed, in a number of cases, productivity has already improved.
The number of overtime hours also remained stable, indicating that workers were not content with shifting office tasks into their spare time.
Nor did the chiefs’ costs increase, with the exception of the health sector, where it was necessary to hire more staff to cover working hours.
Gudmundur de Haraldsson, researcher at the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda), said: “The length of the shorter working week in Iceland tells us that not only is it possible to work less in the modern age, but incremental change is also possible.
“Our roadmap for a shorter work week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone wishing to reduce working hours.”
A survey published by Survation in July last year found that 63 per cent of the British public supported the idea of four days a week without losing wages, while only 12 per cent were against it.
Spain launched a pilot program in March aimed at reducing the work week to 32 hours, to see if the country’s economy could be stimulated by lifting coronavirus restrictions with the aim of boosting employment.
Employees of companies participating in the program will try to reduce their working hours while maintaining the same level of pay.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has voiced support for a four-day working week, and the Scottish and Welsh governments have set up committees to explore the idea.
However, some economists remain skeptical about the introduction of the four-day-week work system, arguing that the standard of living will fall.
“Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less,” Ricardo Moore of CEOE, one of Spain’s leading business associations, said at a forum in December.
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