Everyone’s Learning the Wrong Lesson From the Icelandic 4-Day Workweek Experiment
I felt a familiar sinking dread as I read the news that the Icelandic four-day workweek experiment was considered a roaring success. (The full report, released by progressive thinktank Autonomy, is well worth a read.)
Why? Because, as always, people learned the wrong lesson.
Folks hailed the huge success as groundbreaking because it “improved focus,” “improved productivity,” or “increased…work-life balance.” What almost everyone ignored, or relegated to second-place importance, was the critical fact that this means work can release the chokehold on employees’ lives — and that there are vast groups of people who will be left behind.
We know 40 hours is pointless
I won’t bore you by recounting how the 40-hour workweek began with Henry Ford introducing the factory line… see? You’ve already nodded off.
Suffice to say, it’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever worked a white-collar job to learn, scientifically, that there’s no way to cram forty productive hours into a workweek. So much so that when office workers were sent home for the pandemic, there was a massive surge in side hustles… and work productivity still managed to stay level during a world-changing pandemic and is expected to increase!
Nobody is shocked that reducing a workweek from five days to four has boosted productivity, increased work-life balance, and help office employees enjoy life more. But also, nobody realizes the true ramifications — the fact that we don’t have to list work as the defining element of our lives. Everyone seems to view that as merely a way to get more juice out of an employee.
What if it meant, instead, that employees could stop listing their job as the most important factor in their lives? If they were more than “employees,” and just people with jobs?
We’re ingrained to focus on work. This ranges from asking literal five-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up, to touting the existence of a “dream job,” to even viewing the reduction of work as a way to get more work out of individuals.