Iceland has just completed the world’s largest pilot project trialing the four-day week, involving more than 2,000 workers.
This experiment has proved successful, and has reignited the debate surrounding a measure that has long been advocated as a way of increasing employee wellbeing and productivity. But what’s the state of affairs in other countries?
Working less, but better, by switching to a four-day week. The idea may not be new, but it has been in the news again in recent days, with all eyes on Iceland. This northern country has just unveiled the results of a large pilot study conducted between 2015 and 2019 among 1 per cent of the Icelandic population. The idea was to propose a reduction in working hours — to 35-36 hours a week — while keeping the same salary.
This programme was set up by the British and Icelandic think tanks Autonomy and the Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda), and involved 2,500 people living in Iceland and working in the public sector (schools, hospitals, social services, etc.).
Four years later, the experiment has proved largely successful, with the researchers who conducted the study reporting an increased rate of productivity and wellbeing among most of the workers who took part. The trial even had beneficial effects for the wider the population.
According to the two think tanks behind the study, 86 per cent of Iceland’s working population was able to benefit from new agreements signed between 2019 and 2021, allowing for more flexible working and a reduction in hours.
Spain is following Iceland’s lead
In light of these more-than-satisfactory results from the world’s largest trial of the four-day week, there is every reason to be tempted. The idea has been discussed and debated for several decades. But how far have other countries gone to implement it?
While some companies around the world have been operating a four-day week for some time, no country has yet made it general practice at national level. However, the pandemic seems to have changed the situation.
The idea came back to the forefront in Germany in 2020, for example, when several companies adopted a four-day week to avoid layoffs during the pandemic.
Spain, on the other hand, is following in Iceland’s footsteps, and will launch a similar pilot project this fall, on the initiative of the left-wing party, Mas Pais.
Although it is still in its early stages, it is already known that the project could involve 3,000 to 6,000 Spanish workers over a period of three years, and some €50 million in funding.
About 200 companies are expected to participate, and an evaluation of productivity and employee wellbeing is scheduled to be carried out after one year.
The idea is also gaining traction in the United Kingdom. In 2020, various parties in the country (including the opposition Labour Party) signed a motion calling on the government to set up a commission to study the proposal.
As for France, the four-day week is far from widespread, although a law passed in 1996 allows companies to implement it.
On the political scene, it is again on the left that the idea is advocated, notably by the MEP Pierre Larrouturou, founder of the Nouvelle Donne party and author of a 1999 book on the subject (“Pour la semaine de quatre jours” published by Éditions La Découverte).
However, several companies in France have been operating a four-day week for some time.