Four-day working week hailed an 'overwhelming success' that should be tried in UK after biggest-ever trial in Iceland

A FOUR-day working week should be tried in the UK after the biggest-ever trial in Iceland was hailed an “overwhelming success”.

Workers were found to be less stressed and had a better work-life balance while employers saw no drastic fall in productivity or provision of services, analysis found.

The trial, which ran from 2015 to 2019, resulted in around 86 per cent of Icelandic workers negotiating contracts with permanently shortened hours.

Director of research at British think tank Autonomy Will Stronge 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.

“Iceland has taken a big step towards the four-day working week, providing a great real-life example for local councils and those in the UK public sector considering implementing it here in the UK.”

The experiment in Iceland initially included just a few dozen public sector workers who were members of unions.

But it expanded to include 2,500 workers from both the public and private sector – representing one per cent of the country’s workforce – as the trial progressed.

Cops, healthcare workers, teachers, shop assistants and council workers were among those taking part in the trials, according to a report published by Autonomy and Iceland's Association for Sustainable Democracy said.

Although the experiment was dubbed a “four-day week” in reality most workers did not actually take a full day off work but aimed to reduce their hours from 40 to 35 or 36 each week.

The time saved at work was largely achieved by scrapping unnecessary meetings, taking shorter breaks and moving services online to allow offices to shut earlier.

Workers said because of the time saved they were able to organise their private lives better, such as running errands in the afternoons or doing more household chores.

They also said they had more time to see family and friends and had more time to relax or pursue hobbies.

Workers said they felt less stressed and anxious, both at home and at work.

Bosses said that because they had to think carefully about how office hours were managed, meant there was no significant drop-off in productivity to the ability to provide services.

In fact, in a number of cases productivity actually improved.

The amount of overtime people did also remained flat, indicating workers had not just moved in-office tasks to their own free time.

Costs to bosses didn’t rise either, except in the area of healthcare, where it was necessary to employ more staff to cover the shift patterns.

Gudmundur D Haraldsson, a researcher at the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda), said: “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.

“Our roadmap to a shorter working week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone who wishes to see working hours reduced."

A poll published in July last year conducted by Survation found that 63 per cent of the UK public support the idea of a four-day week with no loss of pay, while only 12 per cent oppose.

Spain launched a pilot scheme in March which aimed to cut the working week to 32 hours, to see if it was possible to boost the country’s economy as it lifted coronavirus restrictions and aimed to boost employment.

Employees of companies taking part in the scheme would try to reduce their hours but maintain the same level of pay.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has voiced support for a four-day working week and the Scottish and Welsh governments have also set up commissions to explore the idea.

Some economists though remain sceptical of introducing a four-day working week, arguing the standard of living would be decreased.

Ricardo Mur of CEOE, one of Spain’s main business associations said at a forum in December: “Getting out of this crisis requires more work, not less.”

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