• Productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces
  • The trials included workers from both public and private sectors
  • Participants reported improved health and happiness and better work-life balance

As companies across the globe are rethinking office culture after the COVID-19 pandemic, results of two large trials of a 4-day workweek in Iceland have reported "overwhelming success."

The research found that employees' productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces when they were asked to work for fewer hours.

During the trials, the workers' schedule was reduced to a 35- or 36-hour week from 40 hours without any reduction in pay. Over 2,500 workers or about 1% of Iceland's working population were included in the trials conducted by the Reykjavík City Council and the Iceland government. The trials were conducted between 2015 and 2019. A diverse workforce from both public and private sectors participated in the study.

The national government launched the study in an effort to improve work patterns after labor unions pointed out that Iceland consistently ranked low in work-life balance compared to its Nordic neighbors.

Working fewer hours led to reports of improved health and happiness, less burnout and a manageable work-life balance among participants, the researchers said. It helped them spend more time with friends and family, which in turn left a positive impact on their work.

To improve the timings, most companies went for shorter and more focused meetings. One company shifted to electronic correspondence and another decided to schedule meetings after 3 p.m. to achieve a better balance, reported NPR. Some companies even shortened their breaks.

The study found that the shorter workweek incentive led people to better organize their time and achieve their tasks more efficiently.

"The scale of the trials, combined with the diversity of workplaces involved and the wealth of available quantitative and qualitative data provides groundbreaking evidence for the efficacy of working time reduction," the study found.

The success of the trials has led unions to renegotiate working patterns. According to researchers, 86% of Iceland's workforce has either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or has gained the right to negotiate their work schedule.

"This [reduction in hours] shows increased respect for the individual. That we are not just machines that just work … all day. Then sleep and get back to work. [But that] we are persons with desires and private lives, families and hobbies," said one participant.

A recent study by WHO found that overwork can increase the number of deaths from stroke and heart diseases. It also underscored the need for companies and government agencies to discourage overtime and cap the working hours.

Husavik, the Icelandic village dreaming of Oscars glory
Iceland | Representational Image Ales Mucha / Handout