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Biggest ever trial of shorter working week reveals findings

Workers from a range of professions, from office workers to social service providers, reduced their work week from 40 hours to 35 or 36 hours as part of the project, while receiving the same pay. Research on the trials by UK think-tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy (Alda) found that after the trials, trade unions “achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country.”

About 86% of Iceland’s working population has now either moved to a shorter work week or has gained the right to shorten their working hours, according to ABC News. The reductions were won in contracts negotiated between 2019 and 2021, according to the report by Autonomy and Alda.

“This study shows that the world’s largest-ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success,” Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, told ABC News. “It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned from other governments.”

While there were initial concerns that the shorter work week could unintentionally lead to overwork, the results of the trials “directly contradict this,” the report said. Instead, the shorter week led to employees working less as a “direct result” of workplaces implementing new work strategies. Meanwhile, productivity and service provision “remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces,” the report said.

“Organization was key to working less – and the reward of reduced hours provoked people to organize their work more efficiently – with changes made to how meetings were run, as well as schedules, and in some cases opening hours,” the report said. “In some cases, meetings were avoided by instead sending emails or exchanging information electronically.”

The program also drove a significant boost in worker wellbeing, which increased across a range of markers from stress and burnout to health and work-life balance, ABC News reported.

“The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too,” said Gudmundur D Haraldsson, researcher at Alda.

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