Iceland successfully introduces four-day week: Should the UK be next?


According to a rent study, trials of a four-day week in Iceland have been declared an ‘overwhelming success’ and has led to a wider debate on whether it should become more common in other European countries.

The move led to many workers moving to shorter hours, but were paid the same amount. The study took place between 2015 and 2019.

The trials were run by Reykjavík City Council, and they revealed that productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces.

The study included more than 2,500 workers – around 1% of the population – and took place in a variety of workplaces. Many of those surveyed moved from a 40 hour week to a 35 hour week.

Researchers from UK think tank Autonomy and the Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) in Iceland announced that the trials led unions to renegotiate working arrangements.

As a result, more than 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will be offered the opportunity to change their working hours.

Workers gained a better work/life balance and employers experienced higher levels of productivity.

Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said: “This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success. It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.”

Gudmundur Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, continued: “The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too.”

Other nations have now followed suit and are testing out four days weeks. Sweden, Spain and New Zealand have recently tested this, and data will be revealed in due course.

Should the UK be next? Please comment below.

Industry reaction

Olly Richards, Founder and CEO of language learning platform, I Will Teach You A Language, spoke to Business Leader about the study: “It’s been my experience that knowledge workers find fulfilment and job satisfaction not from fewer hours at work, but rather from the freedoms, responsibilities and ambitious goals they are given. People with a purpose, and who are in the right role, can work longer hours than others and be more energised.

“Rather than impose a mandatory four-day limit on the work week, companies would do better to ensure the right people are in the right roles, and then give them the freedom to control their own schedule. At my company, staff have unlimited holidays and fully flexible working, and that freedom and trust is appreciated so much more than ‘Fridays off’.”

Rob Vivian – CEO at Pure Comms – comments: I think a four day week is a cracking idea! I think people would be happier condensing work into slightly longer days in the knowledge they have more time off. For me the work/life balance is really important. I think the problem with Covid is that for a lot of people in business that balance is all over the place.

“For me – I haven’t had any time off since last summer and I am working 5/6 days a week. So at the moment coming out of a pandemic – creating a better balance for people is really important!”

Rob Fletcher Isaacs, Co-Founder, Product Director, Andus, comments: “A 4-day work week is going to be a blessing in disguise for a lot of companies, as it will both force them to redesign their operations, and provide their teams with the opportunity to bring more balance to work and life. Obviously, there’s a clear downside for some companies, like mine, that it will directly reduce earning potential – and so if that’s a direction of travel for society than we’ll have to be innovative about how we adapt. But after the last year and a half, it’s clear we’re better at adapting than previously recognised.”

Mike Beesley, Managing Director of The HR World, said: “The idea of a four-day working week sounds like a great idea that will undoubtedly work for some organisations and sectors. But it’s still a big risk for many businesses to undertake.

“The obvious issue is that employees won’t have the necessary time to be productive and move the organisation forward. However, a less talked about outcome of this could be that they actually end up putting in the same hours, albeit unpaid.

“Every business considering such a shift must carefully consider its own needs and how to manage specific gaps that may come about as a result. Ironically, that could take a lot of additional time right from the outset.

“With the current need to get the economy into shape and navigating remote working I can’t imagine we’ll see a wholesale move to this approach for a while yet.”

Abi Liddle, Chief Operations Officer, Modo25, said: “At Modo25, we echo the findings from Iceland. The four day working week is a good thing because achieving work/life balance is so important to our wellbeing and if people feel they have greater balance, they perform better at work. It’s not about paying people less in a working week to cut the wage bill down – this is about finding more effective ways of working and productive use of time to achieve as much as you would in a typical five-day week and therefore still paying that full time salary.  It’s not necessarily an easier way of working, as it can mean a more intense four days of work, but having an extra day of free time is incredibly motivating. Lives have changed so much in the last few decades, it’s time that our wider working practices caught up and started to reflect the needs of our modern lives, which is why Modo25 put in place a four-day working week from day one.”

Adrian Matthews, EB Director at MetLife UK, comments: “For years businesses have believed that higher pay and job security was the answer to a multitude of problems for employees and while they both remain vital, priorities have changed. Employees are now looking for a much more holistic approach to their benefits package.

“Talk of a four-day week and flexible working had started to make their way into our corporate vocabulary before the pandemic but in practice they were largely left to smaller SMEs or start-ups to introduce. Fast forward to 2021 and we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way we work and where we do it. During the pandemic with social venues closed, the ‘softer’ benefits such as gym memberships and Friday drinks became obsolete and while many of us look forward to socialising after work with a colleague again, more functional benefits such as income protection are proving to be more worthwhile. Benefits valued by employees have changed, as the pandemic has brought health and wellness to the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“Ensuring that the benefit packages employers offer suits all members of the team is crucial to protect productivity and encourage loyalty for the long term. Our research found that more than two thirds (69%) of employees ‘will work harder for an employer who provides employee benefits that support my individual needs’. Employers must recognise how the needs of their employees will have changed in the past 12 months and work with them to find practical solutions that can be introduced quickly.”