New Zealand’s own Andrew Barnes has been spearheading the international movement towards a four day working week and it seems that Iceland has taken him up on the challenge and reaped the rewards.
A new report released has broken down exactly what the benefits have been for the country that brags high income levels, low unemployment, high GDP per capita, but abysmal productivity. It has some of the highest hours worked in the OECD prior to these trials. But it turns out chaining everyone to a desk doesn’t equal valuable output.
“Steadily, a consensus has been building within Icelandic civil society that the country requires a reduction in working hours, with citizens starting to recognise the injustice and inefficiency of its high levels of working time — particularly when compared to close Nordic neighbours” the report claims.
Since the study was done 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have had new mechanisms made available to them through which they can negotiate shorter hours in their workplace.
The bottom line from the trials found that the reductions in working hours:
• Maintained or increased productivity and service provision.
• Improved workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance.
One concern raised about the trial was that with one less day to get the same amount of work done workers would take on informal unpaid overtime to be able to keep up. The evidence contradicts this concern, with employees and managers collaborating more to achieve tasks in time. This meant a cutting of meeting lengths (thank god), cutting out unnecessary busywork and rethinking their workflows entirely. Most workplaces needed to do some level of reorganisation to accommodate the new hours, but in no way was this as prohibitive as some might have imagined.
“The Icelandic trials were a major success. Based on the analysis of a wide range of data, we can see that workers experienced significant increases in wellbeing and work-life balance — all while existing levels of service provision and productivity were at the very least maintained, and in some instances improved. Fears of overwork turned out to be ungrounded, as care was taken with the design of the trials.”
Personal tasks were more easily able to be shifted to outside work hours; for example, no more cutting into work time to hit the bank before they close. Meetings were often relegated to just an email or two where they belong. Delegating of tasks became more efficient and there was a reduction of time spent out on coffee breaks.
Workplaces that opted into the trial also became a more tempting option for new employees looking for a job.
Third party relations of people involved in the trials also benefited from the trials. The changes meant they were able to spend more time with their previously estranged family members. People with families were also able to spend more time with the kids and help out around the house more.
It appears that managers were the most concerned about how the trials went:
- “Managers at Reykjavík City trial felt that the pace of work had increased, however staff did not complain.”
- “Some managers said that they experienced stress at the beginning of the trials, but that this dissipated over time. Others felt that there was a slight increase in stress, but that this was outweighed by other improvements.”
- “Some managers within the Icelandic Government felt they were unable to work shorter days, as intended, even though their staff did”
- Managers indicated that educational and training days were more complex to set up. The same applied to farewells for staff leaving.
Yeah, I’m sorry, but if it came down to having awkward lamingtons occasionally to say goodbye to Sheryl or having a whole extra day off a week, I think I can handle not having the lamingtons anymore.
As someone who themselves has taken on the 4 day week, I can attest that all of these benefits are true. Coming into work is a more laser-focused experience. The week already feels half done when I arrive. Any time I may have stolen back for myself at the end of the week is maximally utilised as I know I have plenty of time for myself at the end of it all. I’ve also found burnout is much harder to hit. This is despite spending the other 3 days of the week working on my own projects.
Other countries will be looking at these results closely as they try and find ways to maximise productivity. You can take a look at the summary of data yourself here.
Maybe casually send this article to your boss.