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4 Day Workweek More Sustainable for Companies & Employees

iceland four day workweek

Get more done in less time. Sounds like a lofty and aspirational goal but its surprisingly simple especially when you show yourself its possible. Better yet, when multiple countries have done pilot projects and the results have proven it works. Iceland revealed on July 7th, 2021 a study they did on a large scale project where for four years they reduced work weeks to 35-36 hours at the same pay rate. It was such a huge success that today 86% of workers in Iceland are working shorter hours. Iceland was already named one of the top 10 happiest countries in the world before this was rolled out. New Zealand, Spain and Japan had done a similar projects in the past experimenting with the four day workweek, all with surprisingly positive results.

Coincidentally, I’m actually writing this on a Friday, the start of my weekend. I have been lucky enough to have been able to do contract work which allows me to set my own schedule. Through managing my time on multiple projects and spreading the main one out over the course of 5 days, I got burnt out very quickly. It seemed I had no time for myself and the weekend left as quickly as it got here.

Aside from the burnout, it didn’t seem like there was any logical reason to spread out work over the course of 5 days, when I could get a lot more done in way less time. So I set my schedule for 4 days a week and have been doing it ever since. The list of benefits goes on. Mainly, it allows the ability to choose what to do with your time rather than try and squeeze life into 2 days a week. All while being highly productive.

Since you have less time to get things done, there is positive motivation to do whatever work that is required (or you want to do). On top of feeling like you’ve accomplished something that week, there is another goal at the end of that. More of your time back, which is the most valuable thing you have. One of my many favorite quotes from Elon Musk is:

“If you give yourself 30 days to clean your home, it will take 30 days. But if you give yourself 3 hours, it will take 3 hours. The same applies to your goals ambitions and plans.”

Elon Musk

Whether its a company, a government or a person if you set goals far ahead in the future, there isn’t going to be much motivation to get that goal done, if at all. But if you set that goal to be done tomorrow, your going to find a way to get it done.

The 40 hour work week, which has been a standard for far too long, is akin to “squeeze as much time out of your employees as possible” which turns out does not equate to more output or productivity for the company. This only shows that most companies don’t care about you as a person. This unchallenged work schedule has been around since the end of the Industrial Revolution. Remember, this was back when its was “normal” for kids to work in factories. And after the unethical practices of the Industrial Revolution, came the standard workweek that we know today.

We arrived at 40 hours a week because people actually fought for this. Which in perspective is obviously way better than working 100 hours a week that companies during the Industrial Revolution forced people to do. The idea of working 40 hours a week became popularized in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t until 1940, that this became law to protect people’s rights (Keep in mind that most of these jobs back then were factory jobs). This was almost a century ago that this “standard” was made popular. And not until now, have we started to question if there is any good reason we still work 40 hours a week. Which there isn’t.

While going from 100 hours a week to 40 hours a week was a huge win for people back then, its not beneficial to people today. Especially when technology has help automate much or our work while making it easier and faster. Its astounding to think we spend nearly 1/3 of our lives working. So in 2021, I think most of us can agree its time to change what a “workweek” should be and help give people back more of their time. Its not benefiting companies at all to squeeze out one more day from their employees, when providing a four day workweek is mutually beneficial and in everyone’s interest.

small businesses and people

A great benefit this would have, especially right now, is that since people normally spend more on themselves and leisure activities, a four day workweek will help businesses. Especially small businesses that have been hit the hardest like restaurants, local tourism and local shops. Most of these businesses pull in 80% of what they make on the weekends. And if weekends are longer, this opens up more business for them. Attributed as the creator of the 40 hour workweek, Henry Ford, had said:

“Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles.”

Henry Ford

So you can see that this benefits both people in having more freedom and businesses because they do more business. But being that this was almost a century ago, we need to update the time to reflect the truth in this statement. In 2021, we simply shouldn’t be working the same workweek that were were in 1926 with all of that advancements we have made as a society and with absolutely zero change at this level. Questioning this “standard” could not have come at a better time. We are in one of the greatest transitions in the history of humanity to a more sustainable future. And ensuring that happiness is part of that goal is a great way to help us get there.

Large companies are happy because they get more done and their employees are happier. Small business are happier due to better business and purpose. And most importantly, people are happier. On a fundamental level, a happy, thriving society is a cornerstone and path for a sustainable and utopian society. As to where squeezing as much time out of your employees as you can is the path to a dystopian, unhappy society.

happy people four day workweek

One of the best services governments can provide for their citizens, is to amend work laws to state that 32 hour weeks are the standard to be considered “full-time” and anything beyond that is optional. A four day workweek is a great first step in setting up a foundation for a happy society moving forward. Adopting this world wide would be aspirational, but at the end of the day we’re all people, and I think this is something most people can agree upon.

Anyone pushing back or fighting against the four day work week is either someone who doesn’t like change or is simply unreasonable. Because to argue that the four day work week isn’t efficient, more productive, is more beneficial to employees lives, health and well being, all while benefiting the company’s productivity… when its been proven repeatedly by multiple countries that a four day workweek is effective, isn’t a rational argument.

One other benefits to the four day workweek, especially in the times we are in, is it allows people one more day a week to think of what is important to them in their lives. And as a society, given the current challenges we are faced with like climate change, “thought time” applied to how we can better our future is going to be critical. Collectively, that’s trillions of hours of thought time allocated to “what makes me happy as a person?” and “how can I help solve the problems the world is in?”.

Maybe that’s optimistic thinking, but I think that one of the greatest things that can and will come of this, is people will have ideas and take action toward something more meaningful to society. Solving things like climate change because we have more time to think about the “how” in the already short window of time we have on this one. Rather than slaving away at a desk 1 more day because it was the unchallenged “status quo” for far too long.


Jacob Haust

With a passion for design, electric vehicles, engineering and the environment, Jacob is combining his interests to help make the world a more sustainable place for generations to come. He went to University for Industrial Design where he understood materials, processes and manufacturing. This is a key part as a designer in order to understand what can and can't be done when manufacturing with certain materials and what materials to choose when designing for specific applications. So he has a fairly deep understanding of materials used in everyday products and the processes used to make them. As a kid he also lived in Iceland for years where he toured geothermal power plants and gained an appreciation for the engineering and sustainability of this energy source.

jacob haust
Comments (1)
  • Kirsten
     on January 29, 2022

    That’s all well and good, but what about the small business owners who have to work so much extra to hire and then manage the larger workforce to cover the day their full time workers take off. Or are they supposed to shut down for the extra weekend day too?
    And how will the workers manage on 30.5 hrs per week wages instead of 38? Won’t that negatively affect the economy with families having less disposable income?
    It’s a workable idea for office work, not so practical for trades and service jobs though.


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