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Iceland’s Four-Day Working Week Trials An ‘Overwhelming Success’ Report Finds

Four Related Articles In This Post For Good Measure!

Trials of a four-day working week in Iceland have been lauded an "overwhelming success", with research revealing the initiative helped increase productivity, and led to an overall improvement in workers' wellbeing.

The trials, run by Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic government, were held between 2015 and 2019, and ultimately included more than 2,500 workers — or about one per cent of Iceland's working population.

As part of the project, employees from a range of professions — including offices, kindergartens, social service providers and hospitals — moved from a 40-hour working week, to a 35 or 36-hour working week, but received the same pay.

Research into the trials, published this month by researchers from the UK think tank Autonomy and Iceland's Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda), noted that following the trials' success, trade unions "achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country".

In total, roughly 86 per cent of Iceland’s entire working population has "now either moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours", the report found, adding that such reductions were won in contracts negotiated between 2019 and 2021.

"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," said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy.

"It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments."

'Like A Gift From The Heavens'

Despite concerns a shorter working week would unintentionally lead to overwork, the results of the trials "directly contradict this", the report found.

Rather, a reduction in working hours led to staff working less as a "direct result" of workplaces implementing new work strategies, while productivity and service provision "remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces".

"Organisation was key to working less — and the reward of reduced hours provoked people to organise their work more efficiently — with changes made to how meetings were run, as well as schedules, and in some cases to opening hours," the report noted.

"In some instances, meetings were avoided by instead sending emails or exchanging information electronically."

The trials also resulted in a marked improvement in worker wellbeing, which increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout to health and work-life balance.

One manager, who took part in the initiative, remarked: "I work less … For me it is like a gift from the heavens. And I like it a lot".

"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," said Gudmundur D Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda.

Source ABC

Here's what one of our Aussie professors had to say in 2019 about this concept, yet Iceland is making it work. The above article has just been released this week.

Happy Monday! A Four-Day Work Week Probably Sounds Good Right Now, But There's A Catch

"We should work to live, not live to work," declared Britain's shadow chancellor John McDonnell last month, as he announced the British Labour Party would reduce the standard working week to 32 hours, without loss of pay, within 10 years of winning office.

The promise followed a report (commissioned by Mr McDonnell) from economic historian Robert Skidelsky on how to achieve shorter working hours.

Mr Skidelsky is a member of the House of Lords and a biographer of John Maynard Keynes, who in 1930 predicted a 15-hour working week would be possible within a few generations.

The report deals specifically with British conditions but presents an agenda with universal appeal.

It describes fewer work hours as a win-win — improving productivity for employers while giving employees what they want.

It Says:

"People should have to work less for a living. Having to work less at what one needs to do, and more at what one wants to do, is good for material and spiritual wellbeing. Reducing working time — the time one has to work to keep 'body and soul alive' — is thus a valuable ethical objective."

Arguments for fewer working hours usually focus on the "economic" benefits, in the sense of resource allocation that maximises satisfaction.

But Mr Skidelsky's report says there is a more important reason: that it is ethically desirable.

Ethical desirability is not just a matter of costs and benefits. It is also a matter of justice and realising common goods (shared goods that require collective deliberation and action).

An Insufficient Argument

Reducing working hours will only promote those ends if accompanied by deeper social and cultural changes.

Mr Skidelsky's argument for the ethical desirability of working fewer hours is essentially this:

  • people are generally happier when spending time on what they want to do, rather than on what they have to do to earn an income.
  • less time spent on work, and more free time, will thus promote happiness (or wellbeing)
  • promoting happiness (or wellbeing) is ethically desirable, so it is ethically desirable to reduce the number of hours a person has to work.

A variant of this argument — used, for example, by the Autonomy think tank in its proposal for a shorter working week — substitutes freedom for happiness.

On this view, less time spent on work (which is necessitated by an external reason — income) means more time to do what one wills.

From a philosophical point of view, neither argument is sufficient.

One problem is that reducing the amount of time spent in work doesn't necessarily increase the amount of time available for doing what you want.

Work is not the only context in which action is subject to external constraints.

Much family life, for example, involves doing things that need to be done rather than want to be done.

Another problem is that ethical desirability is not just a matter of increasing the total amount of a good (such as happiness or freedom).

It also concerns the good's distribution. An outcome must be not merely optimal but also just.

The Issue Of Distribution

There is an argument shorter working hours are ethically compelling for precisely this reason: they correct an injustice arising from the unequal distribution of free time.

Studies, for example, show free time is unequally distributed between the sexes.

Men enjoy a larger share of socially available free time, because women spend more time outside paid work on duties related to child rearing and care giving.

Working fewer hours might give women more free time. But it won't of itself distribute free and unfree time more equally.

To address the injustice in the unequal apportionment of free time, some equalising redistribution is needed.

It could be that men, given more free time, will do more non-autonomous activity in the domestic sphere. But that's a presumption.

If a man is putting his feet up on Saturday and Sunday, why expect something different if he also gets Friday off?

Something more fundamental than the amount of time needs to change.

So reducing working hours has benefits, but it does not address deeper problems of inequality in the activity of work itself.

It does nothing to stop the production of harmful things, or things that go against the common good.

The ethically desirable goals of equality and the realisation of common goods require deeper social changes in the way work is done and what it is done for.

Real progress lies in realising equality and common goods through work as much as gaining more time for non-work.

Nicholas Smith is a professor of philosophy at Macquarie University. He has received funding from the Australian Research Council. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

For your interest, here is a company in New Zealand's report in 2018 who found success with the 4 Day Concept.

Four-Day Work Week Is Good For Businesses And Workers

More Companies Are Trialling A Four Day Work Week.

Employees at a New Zealand company behind an innovative trial of a four-day working week have declared it a resounding success, with 78 per cent saying they were better able to manage their work-life balance.

Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts and wills, released their findings from the trial, which was prompted by research that suggests modern workers are only productive for about three hours in a working day.

The analysis shows that employees working four-day weeks felt better about their job — all while maintaining the same level of productivity.

Interestingly, they also experienced a small but significant decrease in work demands.

The Setting

The company asked its 240 office workers to work a four-day week (at eight hours per day) instead of five days, while still being paid their usual five-day salary. The trial was inspired by growing evidence that modern open-plan workplaces can be distracting for workers and reduce productivity.

Managing director Andrew Barnes thought a shorter working week might be an innovative way to get employees to focus on their work and maintain overall productivity, while providing benefits such as an enhanced work-life balance, better mental health and fewer cars on the road.

The results show a 24 per cent increase in employees saying their work-life balance had improved and a 7 per cent drop in stress levels.

The Challenge

The first challenge for the company was that not everybody does the same work across a varied workplace. It is not a production line making widgets, where productivity can be measured easily.

Their solution was to ask teams (and their managers) to detail what they actually did in their job and how they might do it over four days instead of five. This involved organising coverage within teams so that they could still meet deadlines and maintain performance and productivity. In practice, the four-day week meant employees within a team all had a day off each week, but that this day moved from Monday to Friday across the trial period.

The expectation was that if workers could maintain the same level of productivity and do so in four days, they should achieve greater personal benefits and the company would make other gains through enhanced reputation, recruitment and retention, as well as energy savings (20 per cent reduction in staff at work).

There is a large body of research showing that if organisations care about their employees' well-being, staff will respond with better job attitudes and performance.

In addition, research shows that work-life balance is important for job satisfaction and general well-being, and that by being able to spend more time away from their work, employees engage better with their work.

However, there is the potential that employees might report greater stress and issues around work demands because they are now, in effect, doing their current workload in four days rather than five.

The Findings

The results show that employees' perceptions of support changed across the trial. Employees felt that the four-day week (with five days' pay) showed how much their employer cared about their well-being. This type of perception helps organisations because their employees work harder, are more satisfied and want to stay in their jobs longer.

They Also Perform Better

The employees felt their teams had become more cohesive and skilled at doing their work together.

This likely reflects the team focus at the start of the trial when they spent time developing the new four-day approach.

Another finding was that employees reported a small but significant decrease in work demands. This is interesting because there was a potential issue of staff feeling more stressed, but research shows that having more control over one's job enhances psychological well-being. The fact that Perpetual Guardian allowed employees to plan their work week actually aided their ability to do it in a timely and stable manner.

Finally, the supervisors rated their team performance as no different across the trial. However, supervisors also found their teams had greater creativity and engaged in more helpful behaviours, as well as giving better service performance.

The four-day week trial showed that workers can complete their work satisfactorily, or even better in some aspects, while enjoying greater work-life balance and reduced stress. This reflects the power of organisational support and highlights the performance benefits that can be achieved when an organisation takes the risk to trust their employees and support them in a new approach to work.

The eight-week trial was a success and the organisation is now refining the approach before rolling it out full time.

Jarrod Haar is a professor of human resource management at Auckland University of Technology. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Just to finish this Post on a positive note, I found this article also in the cluster of articles on the ABC website this week. I thought it would make for good reading also:)

Three-Day Working Week Provides Best Cognitive Function For Over 40s, Melbourne Study Finds

Working both zero and 50-60 hours a week results in the same level of cognitive skills, according to new research.

Researchers have backed the popular belief that working less could be better for your brain.

New research from the University of Melbourne has found working part-time for about 25 to 30 hours a week had a positive impact on the cognitive function for Australians aged over 40.

But for those working more than three days a week, research found stress and fatigue could erase those positive impacts.

The study analysed the work habits and brain-testing results of 3,000 men and 3,500 women over the age of 40 in Australia.

Specifically, the participants' results in three different cognitive skill areas were tested, which included a memory score test, a reading test and a perceptive ability test.

"In all three cases [tests] it was found around 25-30 hours of work per week will maximise your cognitive skill," said Professor Colin McKenzie at Keio University who took part in the study.

"And going for less hours or more hours reduces your cognitive skills."

Professor McKenzie said one of the key findings showed working both zero hours and at the other end of the spectrum, 50-60 hours, led to the same levels of cognitive skill.

"Too much work leads to stress and fatigue and that's probably the key cause of this decline in cognitive skills after 25-30 hours a week," he said.

Optimal Working Week Unclear

Interestingly, no key differences between men and women in terms of the optimal hours of work were found.

The researchers said their findings are particularly important at a time when many countries are raising their retirement age.

Professor McKenzie said future studies should look at how other dimensions of health were impacted by work.

He said it would also be interesting to determine what the optimal number of hours per week were in different countries.

"If the number of hours doesn't peak at the same place, there may be systemic reasons for that difference, for example Australia has four weeks of annual leave which tends to be longer than Japan," Professor McKenzie said.

"So these chances to refresh your body and brain may be important in determining the optimum peak."

Anyone for 2 Working Days a Week?

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