In a post at the end of 2019, we looked at moves around the world to introduce a four-day working week, with no increase in hours on the days worked and no reduction in weekly pay. Firms would gain if increased worker energy and motivation resulted in a gain in output. They would also gain if fewer hours resulted in lower costs.
Workers would be likely to gain from less stress and burnout and a better work–life balance. What is more, firms’ and workers’ carbon footprint could be reduced.
In New Zealand, Unilever has begun a one-year experiment to allow all 81 of its employees to work one day less each week and no more hours per day. This, it argues, might boost productivity and improve employees’ work-life balance.
The biggest experiment so far has been in Iceland. From 2015 to 2019 more than 2500 people took part in a pilot programme (about 1 per cent of Iceland’s working population). This involved reducing the working week to four days and reducing hours worked from 40 hours per week to 35 or 36 hours with no reduction in weekly pay.
Analysis of the results of the trial, published in July 2021, showed that output remained the same or improved in the majority of workplaces.
As a result of agreements struck with unions since the end of the pilot programme, 86% of Iceland’s workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay or will gain the right to do so.
Many companies and public-sector employers around the world are considering reducing hours or days worked. With working patterns having changed for many employees during the pandemic, employers may now be more open to rethinking ways of deploying their workforce more productively. And this may involve rethinking worker motivation and welfare.
- Four-day week ‘an overwhelming success’ in Iceland
- World’s largest ever four day week trial in Iceland ‘overwhelming success’
- Could we embrace the four-day working week and all that it brings?
- Iceland Tried A Shortened Workweek And It Was An ‘Overwhelming Success’
- A 4-Day Workweek for 5 Days’ Pay? Unilever New Zealand Is the Latest to Try
- The four-day work week is finally catching on
- Four-day working week would slash UK carbon footprint, report says
- Stop the Clock: the Environmental Benefits of a shorter Working Week
BBC News (6/7/21)
Independent, Jon Stone (4/7/21)
Independent, Phil McDuff (27/6/21)
Forbes, Jack Kelly (5/7/21)
New York Times, Azi Paybarah (3/12/20)
Quartz, Lila MacLellan (23/6/21)
The Guardian, Matthew Taylor (27/5/21)
Platform London: 4 Day Week Campaign, Laurie Mompelat and Mika Minio-Paluello (May 2021)
- Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week
Association for Democracy and Sustainability (Alda) and Autonomy, Guðmundur D Haraldsson and Jack Kellam (4/7/21)
- Distinguish between different ways of measuring labour productivity.
- Summarise the results of the Iceland pilot.
- In what ways may reducing working hours reduce a firm’s total costs?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of the government imposing (at some point in the future) a maximum working week or a four-day week?
- What types of firm might struggle in introducing a four-day week or a substantially reduced number of hours for full-time employees?
- What external benefits and costs might arise from a shorter working week?