Iceland’s 4-Day Work Week Trial Improved Employee Wellbeing


  • Iceland trialed giving some of its workers a four-day work week.
  • 1% of Iceland’s work force participated in two trials.
  • There was generally no reduction in productivity and wellbeing improved, according to analysis.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The success of two four-day working week trials in Iceland could act as an example for other governments wanting to implement the plans, say analysts.  

Over 2,500 people across 100 workplaces took part in two government-backed trials, representing roughly one percent of the country’s working-age population.

Many saw their work week reduced from 40 to 35 hours without a reduction in pay, with no real loss in productivity according to joint analysis of the trials by the UK future of work think tank Autonomy and the Icelandic Association of Sustainability and Democracy.  

The results add credence to the concept of a four-day working week without a significant cut in pay, which has been increasingly pushed as a remedy for improving work-life balance, boosting employee performance, and helping the environment. 

The trials were initiated by the Reykjavik City Council and the national government following lobbying by civil society groups and trade unions, who claimed that the nation lagged behind most of its Nordic neighbours when it came to work-life balance.  

The first trial took place in the capital Reykjavik between 2014 and 2019, and initially saw childcare and service center workers cut their hours from 40 to 35 a week. It was then expanded to encompass staff in the city mayor’s office and care homes. 

The second, conducted between 2017 and 2021, saw 440 civil servants from multiple national government agencies reduce their hours. Their roles covered both traditional nine to five hours and irregular shift patterns. 

Contrary to claims that working reduced hours can be counter productive, and actually lead staff to work longer, the analysis suggests that overall, there was no overall loss of productivity or quality of service provided.

In fact, teams were encouraged to work more efficiently by reducing meeting time, reorganizing their schedules, and improving communication between departments. 

There was also generally an improvement in worker wellbeing. Perceived levels of stress and burnout fell in many cases, with many employees saying they felt more positive and happy whilst at work as a result of the new regime. 

Participants say that reduced hours meant they could spend more time exercising and socializing which in some cases had an impact on their in work performance. In workplaces where there was no noticeable improvement in wellbeing, there was also no marked decrease. 

More governments could introduce four-day week trials 

Iceland’s trial is a “crucial blueprint” for how similar trials might be organized around the world, say the researchers, highlighting that in the years since, trade unions have been able to negotiate the right to shorter hours for 86% of the Icelandic workforce. 

“It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks — and lessons can be learned for other governments,” said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, in a statement issued alongside the analysis

Iceland is not the only national government to test the concept of a four-day week.

In May 2021 the Spanish government approved plans for a three-year pilot and pledged €50 million to support businesses implementing the plans, according to the Guardian.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister has also highlighted the concept as a means of helping the economy bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic. 

In 2020 Iceland ranked tenth for the shortest working hours according to latest figures by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with Icelandic workers averaging 1,435 a year.

German workers worked the least hours in 2020, totalling 1332 hours annually.

The EU 27 countries collectively ranked 13th, with 1,513 hours worked annually on average.

In the 35th-placed USA, workers notch an average of 1,767 hours annually.


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