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Less Hours Equal More Productivity

New study finds workers are happier and productive when working less hours

Brian Young's picture
Jul 15, 2021

In the early 1900s, unions fought for a standardized work week of 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, and 5 days a week. That standard has been the normal workweek for nearly a century, but new data shows that working less might actually make workers more productive.

The new study comes from Iceland where workers were paid the same amount as a five-day, 40 hour work week but were asked to only work between 35 and 36 hours a week. The study, which took place between 2015 and 2019 included more than 2,500 workers and was run by Reykjavík City Council and the national government. The study included a range of different job titles including preschools, offices, social service providers, and hospitals.

As the study progressed and the positive results were being seen, unions began to renegotiate working patterns leading to about 86% of the country’s workforce moving to shorter work hours for the same amount of pay. Workers said that due to the change in work hours they felt less stressed and at a lower risk of burnout. They also said their health and work-life balance had improved due to being able to spend more time with family, do hobbies, and complete household chores.

At the same time worker productivity remained the same or improved for the majority of workplaces. Workers told the researchers that the extra time they were given to focus on exercising and socializing actually helped to enhance their work performance.

Gudmundur Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, told the BBC: "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."

The move to a four-day workweek has been gaining steam in recent years. Recently Spain announced a three-year pilot program, with 50 million euros behind it, to allow companies to try reducing their hours with minimal risk.

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