Iceland has completed the world’s largest study on the four-day week with a positive result. We have compiled the five most important facts from the experiment.
The four-day week with a full salary: for many people a mere utopia, for others perhaps soon a reality? Iceland has been around for a few years in two larger field trials examined the effects of the reduced weekly working hours in more detail. The first test run began in 2015 and had a peak of up to 2,500 employees. More than 400 people took part in the second test run from 2017. This is a significant number for Iceland as the total working population is around 200,000.
The result: it seems to be working for the country in the far north. “The productivity and the performance achieved remained the same or even improved at most of the test workstations,” says the published evaluation. However, the results cannot be transferred one-to-one to other economies. Many factors depend on this. Countries such as Spain are currently experimenting with their own example. We have the results Nevertheless, we took a closer look from the Icelandic study and summarized the most important facts in a nutshell.
The researchers answered the question about the development of productivity largely positively. The analysis of various data showed that the Icelanders did not experience any loss of productivity. “Overall, the results of the tests show that productivity and service provision were maintained or increased by reducing working hours,” says the evaluation. The fact that productivity increased in some cases is also closely related to the fact that work processes have been significantly modernized. In a European comparison, Iceland is one of the countries with the highest weekly working hours. According to the European statistics agency Eurostat, the average working week for full-time employees on the island was 44 hours in 2019. For comparison: In Germany, the average working week is around 41 hours.
The fact that people have to do the same work in less time and thus run the risk of working more informal overtime was one of the greatest concerns of many critics. Iceland could refute that. The researchers make it clear that this requires a little more thinking in the organizations. “The specified reduction in working hours actually meant that the workforce worked less,” the analysis says. This required the implementation of new work strategies. In other words: So that everyone in the workforce can go home earlier, work processes, communication structures and decision-making levels had to be reconsidered. Basically, the participating organizations have become more efficient. “We have shortened meetings at our workplace and are constantly trying to shorten them,” says one participant, for example.
Another concern of many critics: the work processes are difficult to optimize with regard to shorter working hours. Iceland has refuted that too. In only one company there have been major efforts to restructure the organization. There were many discussions there, which were controlled by a specially set up committee, according to the published evaluation. “In most workplaces, the process was not that complex and some simple ways to optimize the way we work were identified. Routine work patterns were questioned and changed, working hours were used more efficiently and shifts were reorganized, ”it continued. At the end of the innovations, not only specialists but also managers would have worked less. Many participants believe that this must be the case, as they in particular should set a good example.
Provided that the work processes are reconsidered and informal overtime is avoided, it can be said clearly: The health and well-being of the employees benefit significantly from the shorter weekly hours. “The employees said that they felt more positive and happier at work,” says the evaluation. Not surprising. Other studies also always came to the same result. Serious observers do not question the causality. Above all, people’s stress level drops when they have more time to recover from strenuous work phases on the one hand and to organize their private life on the other. A major side effect: The costs for the health system are falling dramatically. After all, burnout and depression count among the top 3 reasons why working people drop out.
Criticizers also often worry that the population will become lazy and virtuous. The Icelanders have had different experiences here. The free time gained has been used wisely as far as possible: housework could be done more easily during the working week, which has greatly benefited family life on the weekend. Men in particular have taken on more responsibility in the household and in bringing up children. Both men and women, however, took more care of themselves and, for example, went to cafes more often to relax. Many participants would have started a new hobby. Many Icelanders have also started doing sports. “Test subjects with shorter working hours reported a clear advantage in terms of the compatibility of work and private life,” says the evaluation.
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