The working week as we know it could be about to change. We’ve already seen the benefits of working from home and how being in an office building five days a week is no longer a necessity. Now the release of the results from an Icelandic experiment, exploring the concept of a four day week, could cement this concept further and alter the way we work forever.
This experiment was initially carried out between 2015 and 2019 and is already being hailed as an overwhelming success by researchers. It was designed to find out what impact shorter working weeks could have on staff wellbeing, work-life balance and overall productivity.
So what was the experiment?
The workers selected were paid the same amount for shorter hours, with many switching from a 40 hour week to a 35-36 hour week. Iceland used around 2,500 workers for this experiment, which equates to 1% of the population, and found the level of productivity remained either the same or improved for the vast majority of workplaces. This was implemented across a range of sectors, from teachers to hospitals, and has been such a success that now 86% of Iceland’s workers have decided to opt for a shorter working week.
Countless experiment subjects also reported feeling considerably less stressed, finding they now had the time to have a healthier work-life balance. They could spend more time with family and friends, exploring passion projects and maintaining their homes.
Could Thursday become the new Friday?
After the success of this experiment, other countries are now following suit, with both Spain and New Zealand piloting four day weeks. This raises the question; could Thursday be about to become the new Friday?
It’s certainly looking positive for long weekends, especially for the UK. In May a report into the environmental benefits and impacts of a shorter week was launched here. Although the original Iceland study wasn’t focused solely on the environmental impacts there are certain signs to show how the reduction of working hours could have a beneficial effect on the planet.
This was reiterated by the follow-up report that found shifting to a shorter week, without a reduction in pay, could shrink the UK’s carbon footprint by 127 million tonnes each year by 2025. This could reduce the UK’s impact to more than the entire carbon footprint of Switzerland!
What’s the future of the working week?
It seems this experiment and concept is an overwhelming success for both people and the planet but will we actually start to see changes anytime soon?
Well, it’s already been implemented in France. Here a national measure was established to reduce the working week to 35 hours in 2000, which has changed daily routines indefinitely. More and more French workers are valuing the importance of having a work-life balance and the impacts this has on wellbeing. Less time working would also mean there’s more chance of a society-wide move to low-carbon activities, instead of hours outside work spent consuming even more.
It won’t be long before other countries value time spent elsewhere, from home with loved ones to outside the office with friends. There feels like a global cultural shift happening at the moment and it will be interesting to see how time spent at work changes.