Is the future of work a 4-day week?

by Jul 19, 2021

You might have heard about a recent Icelandic study that trialled shortening the work week from 40 hours to 35-36 hours with no decrease in pay. It was deemed an “overwhelming success”, with participants reporting the same or even improved productivity and work-life balance, and less stress and burnout.

Working less but being more productive AND paid the same? Sign me up.

The trials have led to sweeping social change, with 86% of Icelanders now moving to shorter hours. Similar trials are being held in Spain and New Zealand as well.

So, (apart from simply reducing our hours!) what can we learn from this trial, and how can we make it work for us?


Busy people are more organised

It sounds counterintuitive but it’s true: busy people are often better at making and keeping a schedule.

Some of the trial participants managed to reduce their hours by shortening or completely removing tea and coffee breaks. They found that they were able to stay focused on work even without these breaks, since they were motivated by a shorter workweek.

Keeping busy, and keeping their eye on the prize, left them free to stick to a schedule, carry out their tasks efficiently, and stay productive.

It makes sense when you think about it – how many times have you spent the day on the couch, only to realise when you’re heading to bed that you had forgotten to complete all the tasks you mentally set up for yourself?

Here are some tips on how to keep organised while busy:

  • Make a schedule with all your tasks and important deadlines (and stick to it!)
  • Delegate the tasks you can
  • Steer clear from procrastination


Cut the fat

Another way participants managed to reduce their hours without impacting productivity was to cut out unnecessary parts of their work-days.

This is particularly significant when it comes to meetings. Some workers shortened meetings or provided strict agendas, some avoided them completely by sending an email or message instead, or sending files with information rather than verbally giving instructions.

This is a great way to streamline your work-day while not impacting your performance. And the good news is you can apply this method to all forms of work! To-do list not working for you? Try an app instead! Finding that daily catch-ups with a co-worker are dragging on? Suggest making them weekly!

The idea here is to remove anything that doesn’t serve you. If you can find a way to make your work-day more effective, why not do it?


Stay flexible

One of the key takeaways from the Icelandic study was that businesses work best when they’re flexible. The workforce is made up of individual people with their own specific circumstances. Whether it be family commitments, study, working in multiple roles, or something completely different, every person comes to work with their own duties and distractions.

In the study, a reduction in hours was made possible with workplace flexibility. In some cases, hours changed with demand. For example, childcare workers were sent home when children were picked up early, rather than keeping all staff on even with fewer children. In other cases, offices closed early on Friday afternoons to allow for the reduction in hours.

Just like the Icelanders, you have your own set of circumstances to fit work around. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed balancing everything in your life, you could try talking to your manager to find an arrangement that works for you both. This could be starting and ending the day later to take the kids to school, taking a long lunch break to attend classes, or changing your work days around.


Don’t forget to live!

The overwhelming result of the study was that a good work-life balance is key to workplace (and personal) success.

With fewer work-hours, participants were able to spend more time with their families, undertake household jobs and chores, exercise, and work on their hobbies.

Ultimately, this change resulted in a reduction in stress at home, and improved social and community wellbeing, and work performance. That’s right: happiness at home translates to happiness at work.

So take this as official permission to go for a walk on your next lunchbreak, pat your dog, or do the dishes. It means you’ll probably get through the work-day a little easier too!


Perhaps we will see a change in the way we work over time, reflecting the successes of the Icelandic and similar trials. Or maybe we can all take one or two things from the study and implement them in our workplaces. Whatever the result may be, these times they are a-changin’.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Lily Cameron

Lily Cameron

Communications Assistant

Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.