Over 14 years ago, Tim Ferriss came out with a breakthrough book titled The 4-Hour Workweek. The book was on the bestseller list for four years.
And why not? Who wouldn’t find a four-hour workweek appealing?
While I have not heard of anyone successfully living a four-hour workweek, including Ferris, trials of a four-day week in Iceland were an “overwhelming success” and led to many workers moving to shorter hours, researchers have said.
The trials, in which workers were paid the same amount for shorter hours, took place between 2015 and 2019.
The trials run by Reykjavík City Council and the national government eventually included more than 2,500 workers, which amounts to about 1% of Iceland’s working population.
A range of workplaces took part, including preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals.
Productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces, researchers said.
Many of the workers moved from a 40 hour week to a 35 or 36 hour week.
The trials led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will gain the right to.
Workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout, and said their health and work-life balance had improved. They also reported having more time to spend with their families, do hobbies, and complete household chores.
This seems like a great solution for the workers, but what about for the employers?
Did services have to be cut to accommodate the shorter working week?.
For example, was pre-school cut from five days to four days? If not, did the government have to hire additional people to staff that fifth day? If that is the case, then moving to a four-hour workweek would seem to increase the overall costs of such a program.
Iceland is not the only country trying such work experiments.
Spain is piloting a four-day working week for companies in part due to the challenges of coronavirus.
And consumer goods giant Unilever is giving staff in New Zealand a chance to cut their hours by 20% without hurting their pay in a trial.
My sense is that these kinds of work changes that result in lower hours with the same pay may work in certain industries and jobs, but may not be as well suited for other types of work, such as a school or a hospital.
I’ve written before about the artificial nature of the 40-hour workweek (here and here), and if a business can get the same amount of work done and provide the same level of service with a shorter workweek, then it makes sense to move to a shorter workweek.
Many times, the productivity gains from using technology are a key part of such work changes.
After all, isn’t that what washing machines and dishwashers and microwave ovens were supposed to do? Free up our time spent doing mundane chores at home so that we have more time to spend with our families and enjoying life?
If technology can do the same thing at work, then we should take advantage of it.
I’ll admit I have not read all of the details of the Icelandic experiment, but if the researchers are calling it a success, then that has to count for something (although I know they could be biased in wanting to say the program is successful if they were involved in designing it).
But I seem to be reading about more of these types of work experiments, so it seems as if the trend is for companies to look for ways to reduce the workweek.
And if all else remains at least equal (pay and productivity), then I say cut that workweek…