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Shortened Work Weeks: What Studies Show

Results challenge long-held assumptions and point to improved work-life balance.

If employees work fewer hours each week, will productivity fall? The results of two studies involving a total of 1% of Iceland’s workforce say the answer to that question is a resounding “no.”1

“Overall, the results of the trials show that the reductions in working hours maintained or increased productivity and service provision [and] improved workers’ well-being and work-life balance,” according to the report, “Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week,” published in June 2021.1


Business leaders are studying these and other survey results as they reimagine the workplace to attract and maintain new waves of workers with changing expectations. In a 2019 survey, 73% of the respondents said work-life balance tied with salary as the most important factors when weighing career opportunities. Flexible work options, work schedules, and meaningful work rounded out the top five.2

“Creating work environments where employees are healthy, loyal, and productive may be the ultimate corporate hat trick,” writes Theresa Agovino in an article for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Any strategy that comes even close to achieving that lofty goal is bound to attract attention.”3

Highlighting Iceland’s Results

“Going Public” is a compelling document for the global workforce and may be of particular interest to professionals earning Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degrees online. Here are some quick takes about the shortened work week from the 82-page report:1

  • Background: The trials, involving more than 2,500 workers in a variety of career settings, took place in 2015 and 2017. Employees’ hours were reduced—they went from working 40 hours a week to 35 or 36—but their salaries stayed the same. To prevent employees from working “formal or informal overtime,” organizations cut or shortened meetings, streamlined the workflow, and found other efficiencies.
  • Workplace Findings: “Service provision and productivity either stayed within expected levels of variation, or rose during the period of the trials,” the study says. In some settings, workers reported an improved sense of well-being. “Symptoms of stress were reduced for workers at Icelandic government workplaces that cut hours of work, while control workplaces saw no change.”
  • Personal Benefits: With a shortened work week, many participants found “work and home life were in better harmony,” even a year into the trial. “Across both trials, many workers expressed that after starting to work fewer hours they felt better, more energized, and less stressed, resulting in them having more energy for other activities, such as exercise, friends, and hobbies,” the report says.
  • Outlook: “Going Public” says Iceland’s shortened work weeks are here to stay: “In total, roughly 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or has gained the right to shorten their working hours.”

More Studies for Business Managers

There are other, smaller trials making big news, too. Over eight weeks in 2018, Perpetual Guardian, New Zealand’s largest corporate trustee company, offered all 250 employees a four-day work week. The company cut workers’ hours—from 37.5 to 30—but not their pay. Leadership watched employee engagement rise and stress levels fall. And they saw that staffers completed in 30 hours what they previously had in 37.5.4

“When we started, everybody’s initial reaction was, ‘How am I ever going do my work in four days rather than five?’ So, the fact that the trial indicates that not only could they do their work in four days, but they could do it better in four days, is something I find extraordinarily surprising,” said company founder Andrew Barnes, who was so pleased with the results that a four-day work week is now standard.4

Microsoft Japan tried something similar in 2019: 2,300 employees worked a four-day week with no reduction in pay. Company leaders reported a 40% increase in productivity.5

Making the Time

While moving to a shortened work week may seem radical, or the results overly rosy, consider what other studies have found. In a 2018 global survey of almost 3,000 employees, 45% of full-time workers said they could accomplish their work in five uninterrupted hours each day.6 By helping to eliminate time-sapping interruptions, corporate executives and business managers may start laying the groundwork for a shortened work week and a happier, more productive staff.

“The idea of working five days a week with two-day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn’t always the case, and it won’t be in the future,” British entrepreneur Richard Branson wrote in a 2018 blog post. “I’m lucky in being able to work wherever I am, at any time, and don’t see work and play as separate—it’s all living. I think this will be the case for more and more people in the future, to the benefit of businesses, countries, and individuals.”7

Prepare for the Future With an Online MBA

You can ignite your ability to navigate a fast-changing world by earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree online. Walden University, a leader in distance education for more than 50 years, offers an online MBA program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

At Walden, you can choose a General Program or one of three specializations: Healthcare Management, Human Resource Management, and Project Management. There’s also a Self-Designed option that lets you tailor your online MBA degree program to your career objectives.

Choice is a hallmark of this online master’s in administration degree program. Walden offers an online MBA without a GMAT and lets you pick your General Program learning path: course-based or competency-based. In the General Program, you can also choose the One-Year Fast-Track option. Time to completion varies, but some students finish their business administration master’s degrees in 12 months by doubling up on coursework.8

And if you’re positioned to earn education’s highest degree, you may want to consider Walden’s ACBSP-accredited Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) online degree program. Choose one of 10 in-demand specializations like Entrepreneurship, International Business, or Leadership. There’s a Self-Designed option at the doctoral level, too.

When you’re ready to boost your career trajectory, choose a top MBA or DBA program to help lift you to new heights as a business innovator and leader.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

8Time to completion and cost are not estimates of individual experience and will vary based on individual factors applicable to the student. Factors may be programmatic or academic such as tuition and fee increases and/or the student’s transfer credits accepted by Walden; program or specialization changes; unsuccessful course completion; credit load per term; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; writing, research, and editing skills; and individual progress in the program. Other factors may include personal issues such as the student’s employment obligations, caregiving responsibilities or health issues, leaves of absence, or other personal circumstances.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden’s BS in Business Administration, Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and PhD in Management programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). The MS in Accounting and BS in Accounting programs are also accredited by the ACBSP and have earned the organization’s separate accounting accreditation.