Iceland Becomes Next Country to Move to Four-Day Work Week

productivity increases as employees work 10% fewer hours for same pay

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Iceland tested a four-day work week for four years. Now, 86% of its employees are moving to the 36-hour schedule for the same pay as a 40-hour week. More companies focus on employee satisfaction now than in the past.

Woman in workplace setting with yoga mat, using cellphone
Work-life balance is being explored by employers worldwide as they review productivity studies about a shift to a four-day work week at the same pay as a 40-hour work week. Photo By wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

Recently, the Japanese government suggested allowing employees to shift to a four-day work week to give them more time to focus on family. Now, Iceland seems to be following suit after an experiment that ran from 2015 to 2019 proved to be a major success. Employees who worked fewer hours for the same pay reported improved work-life balance, less burnout, and more time to spend with family and friends. Meanwhile, productivity either remained the same or improved; other nations, including Spain, are currently conducting trials.

In her video series How to Build a Thriving Workplace: A Leader’s Guide, Dr. Beth Cabrera, Senior Scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University, said that employee well-being is becoming a larger focus of companies worldwide—and for good reason.

Positive Psychology

According to Dr. Cabrera, the standard dictionary definition of thriving is “prospering, flourishing, or developing well.” When asked how they define thriving, most people put the idea of well-being at the center of their answer.

So how do we promote that well-being?

“In the decades following World War II, the science of psychology made significant advances in diagnosing and treating pathologies,” Dr. Cabrera said. “The focus on mental illness and adversity enriched our understanding of the causes of human suffering, but we didn’t learn much about the other side of the human experience: thriving. Psychologists knew a lot more about how to help people with depression or anxiety than they did about how to help people live well and be their best.”

In the late 1990s, the president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, pushed psychologists to shift their professional focuses from “relieving misery” to exploring what makes life worth living. In the 20+ years since, the field of positive psychology has exploded and scientists have found that when we have high well-being—when we thrive—we are at our best. Happy, healthy, and prosperous, thriving students get higher grades and are more likely to stay in school.

Thriving employees are more creative, more productive, and more engaged.

Live and Let Thrive

“A survey by the American Psychological Association concluded that leader support was critical for workplace well-being,” Dr. Cabrera said. “Results showed that 73% of employees with leaders who were committed to well-being initiatives said their organizations’ employees were thriving, versus only 11% of employees with leaders who were not supportive.

“Yet despite the importance of leader support, only 40% reported having a leader who was involved in and committed to employee well-being.”

The importance of well-being in the workplace isn’t confined to subordinates. According to Dr. Cabrera, Gallup researchers who studied 1,740 team members and their leaders in three six-month intervals found that when the leader was thriving, those who report directly to that leader were 15% more likely to thrive six months later. Leadership sets the tone for the workplace, and yet employee wellness programs are often relegated solely to Human Resources departments.

The workplace environment itself is vital, too.

“Stress at work doesn’t just harm employees; it can also hurt company performance by contributing to a lack of engagement,” Dr. Cabrera said. “Research by the Gallup organization shows that around 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged, [and] disengagement is associated with higher absenteeism and turnover, more accidents, and lower productivity.

“It’s estimated to cost the U.S. economy between $450 billion and $550 billion each year.”

Thriving employees and leaders make for successful workplaces. Several countries around the world will soon find out if a regular three-day weekend does indeed contribute to that philosophy.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily