It almost seems too good to be true: a major trial in Iceland shows that cutting the standard five-day week to four days for the same pay needn’t cost employers a cent (or, to be accurate, a krona).
Unfortunately it is too good to be true.
While even highly reputable media outlets such as the BBC have reported on the “overwhelming success” of large-scale trials of a four-day week in Iceland from 2015 to 2019, that’s not actually the case.
The truth is less spectacular — interesting and important enough in its own right, but not quite living up to the media spin, including that these trials have led to the widespread adoption of a four-day work week in Iceland.
Four hours at best
The media reports are based on a report co-published by Iceland’s Alda (Association for Democracy and Sustainability) and Britain’s Autonomy think tank about two trials involving Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic government. The trials covered 66 workplaces and about 2,500 workers.
They did not involve a four-day work week. This is indicated by the report’s title – Going Public: Iceland’s journey to a shorter working week. In fact the document of more 80 pages refers to a four-day week just twice, in its first two paragraphs, and only then as a reference point for what the trials were actually about:
In recent years, calls for shorter working hours without a reduction in pay — often framed in terms of a ‘four-day week’ — have become increasingly prominent across Europe.
Read on to the third paragraph and you’ll learn the study “involved two large-scale trials of shorter working hours — in which workers moved from a 40-hour to a 35- or 36-hour week, without reduced pay”.