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Four-day workweek is an overwhelming success in Iceland

Four-day workweek is an overwhelming success in Iceland
/ Cecilie_Arcurs / E+ / Getty Images

The eight-hour workday was started back in 19-century socialism when there was no limit to the amount of work that companies could demand of factory workers. American labor unions fought hard to instill a 40-hour workweek to cut down on the number of hours of manual labor that workers were forced to endure.

Welsh textile mill owner and social reformer Robert Owen summarized it as, “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest”.

Over the next 100 years or so, labor unions around the world pushed for the eight-hour standard and in 1926, Henry Ford brought the idea further into the mainstream by mandating a five-day, 40-hour workweek in his company’s factories. In 1940, Congress finally set the American workweek at 40 hours and the rest as they say is history.

The problem is, so much has changed since then and there have been countless essays written and studies conducted over the years that argue the five-day-eight-hour workweek is an outdated and ineffective approach to work.

Today, the discussion centers around the possibility of a further cut in the workweek, from five days to four days. Recently, a new report out of Iceland shows that a four-day workweek is far more beneficial for both employees and employers.

Carried out by the Icelandic government and published by Autonomy, the report suggests that a substantial portion of the economy could switch over to a short workweek tomorrow with little in the way of negative effects.

In fact, around 85% of workers in Iceland are currently, or on the way to, working four days a week instead of five. And even though they’re spending less time at their jobs, their pay hasn’t declined.

The experiment was designed in hopes of meeting the work-life balance of Icelanders and improving productivity in the workplace. It didn't take long before they noticed a significant and positive change in the physical and mental health of workers. To that point, trials of a four-day week in Iceland have been called an “overwhelming success.”

A shorter workweek has also since been tested in Sweden, and similar pilots are underway in Spain and Japan. Some companies in the U.S. are trying it out, too. Perhaps, here in Canada, others will follow suit. 

10 most common things people do at work to kill time:

Reading news websites--1 hour, 5 minutes

Checking social media--44 minutes

Discussing non-work-related things with co-workers--40 minutes

Searching for new jobs--26 minutes

Taking smoke breaks--23 minutes

Making calls to partners or friends--18 minutes

Making hot drinks--17 minutes

Texting or instant messaging--14 minutes

Eating snacks--8 minutes

Making food in office--7 minutes


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