A four-day working week may be a win-win for employees and employers alike, according to a report from the Icelandic Association for Democracy and Sustainability (ALDA).
The report looked at two four-day working week trials from 2015-19 which included more than 2,500 staff from over 100 workplaces – equaling around 1.3 per cent of Iceland’s workforce.
Employees had hours reduced from 40 to 36 per week with no reduction in pay.
“Participating workers took on fewer hours and enjoyed greater well-being, improved work-life balance and a better cooperative spirit in the workplace,” the report said.
“All while maintaining existing standards of performance and productivity.”
Concerns around increased overtime and lower levels of service provision were addressed by evidence from the trials which seemed to contradict these issues.
But the organisations didn’t magically create more productivity with fewer hours – it required a wholesale change in attitudes.
Meeting times was slashed, unnecessary tasks were identified and removed, and new arrangements were made around how shifts would operate.
Importantly, to achieve the stated aim of reducing work hours – for managers as well – the organisations had to think critically about the kinds of work activities that could be adjusted.
A manager for a local council said it took a “a bit of work” to decide the new schema.
“There were quite a lot of discussions and a lot of work to figure out what suited our group,” they said.
“We set up a committee within the organisation to work on this. Figuring out a good strategy of shortening hours was a bit complex.”
One worker quoted in the ALDA report said the changes automatically bred greater workplace flexibility.
“Instead of doing things the same, usual routine as before, people re-evaluated how to do things and suddenly people are doing things very differently from before,” they said.
Different methods were used to cut work hours including effective prioritisation, effective delegation, and fewer coffee breaks and personal errands during the day.
After implementing cuts to hours, workers reported having better wellbeing, less stress, and more time to spend with their families.
Because they felt better overall, the workers’ improved the quality of their work while at the office.
“Across both trials, many workers expressed that after starting to work fewer hours they felt better, more energised, and less stressed, resulting in them having more energy for other activities, such as exercise, friends and hobbies,” the report said.
“This then had a positive effect on their work.”
Australia and Iceland rank similarly poor for work-life balance on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index.
Both countries measure high above the OECD average for both the percentage of employees working very long hours – more than an average of 50 hours per week – and have a below average amount of hours devoted to leisure and personal care each week.
After work, Australians are left with a reported 14.4 hours to their leisure and personal car while Icelanders have just 14.1 hours – far below the OECD average of 15, and well below the likes of Italy, France, and the Netherlands which average more than 16 hours.