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Iceland has been conducting a trial of a four-day workweek. The country trialled the idea on 1% of its population between 2015 and 2019. This was the largest ever trial of its kind. The trial has been hailed as a monumental success with workers reporting being happier, healthier and having better work/life balance. The trial has also proved successful for employers. Despite employees working less each week, there was no drop-off in productivity as might have been expected. Instead, a majority of the workforces included in the trial achieved either the same level of productivity or an increase in overall productivity, despite the decrease in hours worked each week.

The trial was so successful that 86% of Iceland’s workforce have now either moved to a shorter workweek or have the option to do so. The success of the trial has come after discussions in multiple countries over a 21st-century work-life. The five-day work week as we know it was first established in the late 1800s and became the dominant working style around the world by the 1920s. Proponents of alternative working methods, such as the four-day workweek, are asking whether or not we have outgrown the traditional five-day system. With changes in technology, work culture and the careers people have in the 21st century, some have argued that most people can work just as efficiently and productively with fewer hours. The Iceland trial appears to be proof of that. 

It was a fairly common belief in the 1950s and 1960s that people would be working less in the future. The idea was that automation would allow people to work less while companies still got the same amount of production. However, even as automation and new technologies improved worker productivity, work-life has remained largely the same. This is even though worker productivity increased by around 73% from 1979 to 2019. The productivity boost from technology over the past few decades has been as big as predicted. However, instead of employees being able to work less, companies have only increased their production. Employees have hardly benefited from the increased productivity as working hours, weekends, holidays and salary have largely remained the same or improved very little.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to embrace new working methods that have been possible for years but had not been adopted due to the difficulty of dislodging traditional working methods. Working from home became ubiquitous in industries that could make the transition and productivity did not decrease. Workers benefited from being able to do their work from home and not being constrained to the 9-5 office life. Early birds could start work early and finish earlier in the day. Night owls could start later and finish later. Parents have been able to fit their work schedule around the needs of their children while still maintaining the productivity they had in the office. As the worst of the pandemic appears to be coming to an end, workers are even refusing to go back to the office. Many want to maintain the newfound work/life balance that the pandemic has gifted them. With companies and workers now looking at alternative working styles to the five-day workweek, the future looks bright for workers who want a healthier balance between their work and home lives. The four-day workweek is being trialled in other countries like Spain and New Zealand. Perhaps it will be the next big shift in working life after the shift to working from home.

Difficult words

Hail (v): To praise something enthusiastically.

Workforce (n): All of the workers in a country or organisation.

Dominant (adj): Having a higher place than others.

Outgrown (v): To grow too big for something.

Automation (n): The use of technology to make things automated, or done without human involvement.

Embrace (v): To fully accept something.

Adopt (v): To take up or use a new method.

Ubiquitous (adj): Easily found everywhere.

Newfound (adj): Recently discovered.

Activities

For listening practise, listen to the recorded article here:

American English Audio: Coming Soon!

Match the Synonym!

1. HailA. Higher level.
2. WorkforceB. Employees
3. DominantC. Accept
4. OutgrownD. Present everywhere.
5. AutomationE. Too big
6. EmbraceF. Take on.
7. AdoptG. Discover
8. UbiquitousH. Praise
9. NewfoundI. Done by itself.

True or False?

1. Iceland has been trialling a three-day workweek. T / F

2. The trial was done with 50% of the population. T / F

3. During the trial, worker productivity mostly increased or stayed the same. T / F

4. More than 80% of Iceland’s workforce now have a shorter workweek or have the option. T / F

5. The five-day workweek became the standard in the 1920s. T / F

6. In the 1950s, people believed employees would be working more in the future. T / F

7. Workers have slowly worked less and less over the years because of automation. T / F

8. COVID-19 has forced companies to adopt new working methods. T / F

9. Nobody wants to continue working from home after the pandemic. T / F

10. Spain and New Zealand are trying out a shorter workweek as well. T / F

Unscramble the sentence!

1. trial / a / Iceland / a / workweek / of / has / been / conducting / four-day

2. trial / has / countries / multiple / of / The / come / the / in / after / success / discussions

3. benefited / productivity / increased / hardly / the / Employees / from / have

4. from / Working / home / in / the / ubiquitous / transition / could / industries / that / make / became

5. workweek / being / in / trialled / countries / The / is / like / four-day / Spain / other

Listening and Vocabulary

Listen to the article and fill in the words OR practice vocabulary and fill in the words.

American English Audio: Coming Soon!

OverallEstablishedMonumental
RemainedMaintainingSalary
EfficientlyAlternativeForced

Iceland has been conducting a trial of a four-day workweek. The country trialled the idea on 1% of its population between 2015 and 2019. This was the largest ever trial of its kind. The trial has been hailed as a (1)_______________ success with workers reporting being happier, healthier and having better work/life balance. The trial has also proved successful for employers. Despite employees working less each week, there was no drop-off in productivity as might have been expected. Instead, a majority of the workforces included in the trial achieved either the same level of productivity or an increase in (2)____________ productivity, despite the decrease in hours worked each week.

The trial was so successful that 86% of Iceland’s workforce have now either moved to a shorter workweek or have the option to do so. The success of the trial has come after discussions in multiple countries over a 21st-century work-life. The five-day work week as we know it was first (3)______________ in the late 1800s and became the dominant working style around the world by the 1920s. Proponents of alternative working methods, such as the four-day workweek, are asking whether or not we have outgrown the traditional five-day system. With changes in technology, work culture and the careers people have in the 21st century, some have argued that most people can work just as (4)______________ and productively with fewer hours. The Iceland trial appears to be proof of that. 

It was a fairly common belief in the 1950s and 1960s that people would be working less in the future. The idea was that automation would allow people to work less while companies still got the same amount of production. However, even as automation and new technologies improved worker productivity, work-life has (5)____________ largely the same. This is even though worker productivity increased by around 73% from 1979 to 2019. The productivity boost from technology over the past few decades has been as big as predicted. However, instead of employees being able to work less, companies have only increased their production. Employees have hardly benefited from the increased productivity as working hours, weekends, holidays and (6)_________ have largely remained the same or improved very little.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were (7)__________ to embrace new working methods that have been possible for years but had not been adopted due to the difficulty of dislodging traditional working methods. Working from home became ubiquitous in industries that could make the transition and productivity did not decrease. Workers benefited from being able to do their work from home and not being constrained to the 9-5 office life. Early birds could start work early and finish earlier in the day. Night owls could start later and finish later. Parents have been able to fit their work schedule around the needs of their children while still (8)_______________ the productivity they had in the office. As the worst of the pandemic appears to be coming to an end, workers are even refusing to go back to the office. Many want to maintain the newfound work/life balance that the pandemic has gifted them. With companies and workers now looking at (9)______________ working styles to the five-day workweek, the future looks bright for workers who want a healthier balance between their work and home lives. The four-day workweek is being trialled in other countries like Spain and New Zealand. Perhaps it will be the next big shift in working life after the shift to working from home.

Conversation Questions

Take turns speaking with a partner or try to answer on your own:

1. Did you find this article interesting? Why or why not?
2. Did you learn anything new from this article? If so, what?
3. What do you think of this story?
4. What is work culture like in your country?
5. Would you prefer to work longer days but only four days per week?
6. Do you think many countries will follow Iceland?
7. Has your work life improved since COVID-19 started?
8. Do you prefer working from home or working in an office?
9. What other ways can your work life be improved?
10. Do you feel valued by your employer?
11. Do workers in your country have strong protections from the government?
12. Should workers get to choose their working hours more freely?
13. Why do you think the five day work week has been around for so long?
14. Are companies in your country resistant to change?
15. Should employees be paid for the time they work or for what they produce?
16. How would more time away from work help your life?
17. What do you think working life will be like for workers in 50 years?
18. Has your country run any trials like the one in Iceland?
19. Do government workers get better benefits than private sector workers in your country?
20. What would your dream working life be?