The Experiment of Shorter Workweeks

Would shorter workweeks impact productivity? Two large experiments sought to answer this question between 2015 and 2019. And the guinea pigs were more than 2,000 Icelanders. According to the results, working fewer days a week is more beneficial for everyone.

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Shorter Workweeks 1

Reducing the workweek to 35 hours did not lead to a drop in productivity or service delivery. On the other hand, in a number of parameters, worker well-being improved markedly. And we’re talking about important things, like the perception of stress or burnout.

In fact, since the culmination of these experiments, the working day has changed forever in Iceland. More than 85% of the country’s workforce adopted shorter workweeks. And other nations are likely to replicate the measure with their workers. In 2016, Mexican businessman Carlos Slim proposed reducing the working day to three days, with 33 effective hours of work.

“In both trials, many workers reported feeling better after starting to work fewer hours per week. The reduction in stress came with an increase in energy destined for other activities such as exercise, friends and hobbies,” the report mentions. “This had a positive effect on their work.”

And the employers involved in the experiments excel in a variety of sectors, from hospitals to private practices. In addition, in those four years approximately 1% of the economically active population in Iceland participated. Even with fewer working hours, workers were paid the same wage.

And it was a real reduction, not a disguised one. According to information released by the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland, for most workers the increase in overtime was not significant. The new workday was maintained thanks to shorter meetings, shift changes, and debugging unnecessary tasks.

Reduction of working week in Iceland.

The simple reduction of 4-5 working hours per week proved incredibly beneficial. Workers showed greater creativity in their activities. And while some participants had trouble adjusting at first, in the end most ended up getting used to the new routine.

A Happy Day at Work

“Instead of doing things routinely, workers began to reevaluate their activities. Suddenly, they were doing activities in very different ways than usual,” said one of the participants.

When it came to well-being, volunteers reported a reduction in work stress. In addition, they improved their work-life balance. During follow-up interviews, participants reported other unexpected benefits. For example, they had more time to do household chores, exercise, and take care of themselves.

The report says that the Icelandic experiments were a great success. They ensure that both managers and employees spend less time working without affecting the quantity or quality of their work. In fact, this phenomenon had already been observed in previous research.

In the end, most participants wanted to keep the workweek short. “It became increasingly clear that few want to return to pre-pandemic working conditions. That yearning for a shortened workweek came to define the ‘new normal,'” the report concludes.



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