Trials of a four-day working week, which took place in Iceland between 2015-2019, were dubbed an “overwhelming success”. 

Improved wellbeing, a lower risk of burnout and more time to spend with family were some of the benefits seen by Icelandic workers taking part in a four-day working week trial.

The world’s largest ever trial of this kind saw 2,500 employees across a variety of industries move from a 40 hour work week to a 35 hour work week.

This was achieved through removing unnecessary meetings, cutting down coffee breaks and moving services online.

Despite the shortened amount of hours working, the results showed that productivity either remained at the same level or improved compared to a five-day work week.

In addition, research shows that overtime hours did not peak – meaning that employees were completing all the tasks in the allotted time slot given.

Participants reported lower levels of anxiety, stress and burnout whilst adding they had more time to relax, spend time with family or complete household chores.

As such, over four in five workers (86 per cent) in Iceland have renegotiated their working patterns to offer shorter working hours for the same pay.

Will Stronge, Director of Research at British think tank 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.

Previous research by HRreview showed that a four-day work week has also been trialled in other countries including Spain and some businesses in the UK.

Global affiliate network Awin, trialled a four-day working week since January 2021.

By April, it was found that the number of staff taking sick leave had fallen by over half (59 per cent), while candidate applications had risen by 12 per cent during the same period.

A recent survey from the charity Be The Business found that more than a million British companies employing three million workers could move to a four-day working week after the pandemic.

Almost a fifth (18 per cent) of firms were considering the idea to boost employees’ productivity.

However, there are key questions concerning how this will impact holiday entitlement, whether this will cause overtime hours to rise and how compatible this would be with the schedules of working parents.

Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ Absence, commented on this:

The pandemic has accelerated interest in flexible working, shorter weeks and remote working, and this looks set to stay. Working flexibly can bring many health and wellbeing benefits to people.

But managing a flexible workforce, who aren’t doing the regular nine to five, can be tricky and employers will need to have systems and policies in place as life starts to return to the new normal.

It is likely businesses will operate quite differently to how they did pre-pandemic, with people working in different ways. But employers will need to ensure it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on company culture and camaraderie, as well as the business itself.