4 Day Workweek Countries: Examples from Iceland, Spain, Belgium and Others

Across the world, countries are experimenting with the idea of a 4-day workweek, intending to improve work-life balance and productivity while providing many other benefits. Today we will explore 5 countries that have embraced or experiment with the concept of a 4-day workweek: Iceland, Spain, Belgium, Japan and New Zealand. We will discuss the trials, individual takes, results, and implications of a 4-day workweek in each country. So let’s take a closer look at each one and see what the future holds for the 4-day workweek!


In the report from 2021, the Icelandic government shared details about two performed trials of a shorter working week, one from 2015 and one from 2017. The trial involved over 2,500 workers.

By doing it the government aimed to improve their citizens’ work-life balance as well as maintain productivity without reducing pay.

The trials included nine-to-five workers, offices, playschools, social service providers, and hospitals. Results showed positive effects on employee well-being, productivity, and service provision. 

Following the trials’ success, 86% of Icelandic workers have gained the right to shorten their working hours. These reductions have already come into effect for most workers.


The Spanish government has been testing a 4 days workweek in a pilot program involving 70 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a budget of 10 million euros.

This program is part of an agreement to carry out the PGE 2022 – General State Budget and defines that a minimum reduction of 10% of the working day must be applied and the plan must be maintained for two years. 

The goal of this program is to improve workers’ productivity, work-life balance, and equal opportunities and to reduce the stress and tensions of the workers by having three days off instead of two. 

Accepted companies will incorporate organizational measures and continuous training to improve this productivity and evaluate its evolution. Workers will not see their salaries reduced in exchange for the reduction in working hours.


On November 20, 2022, the Belgian government announced that it is introducing a four-day workweek for employees. This is, however, a different and less desired approach.

According to this new measure, an employee can work 9.30 hours per day, 4 days per week, if they do not exceed 38 hours, i.e. compressed hours. If an employee works more than 38 hours, up to 40 hours, they can still work four days a week with 10 hours per day. In both scenarios, the employee is still achieving the same full-time employment; the hours are just compressed.

They further explain that if an employee wishes to work in a four-day week, they must submit a written request to their employer. This written agreement must specify the concrete work schedule, including the days of rest and the start and end date. The employer may refuse the application but must provide a written explanation for the refusal.

On the brighter side of things, the employee who applies to work in a four-day week enjoys extra protection, and the employer may not disadvantage or terminate the employee’s contract because of the application itself. So, again, this method is different from what the Four-Day Workweek campaign aims for, as this set of new options is about compressing the hours and not reducing them.


The Japanese government is also taking steps to make a 4 day work week a reality across the country. The 4-day workweek system is included in the government’s “Basic Policy 2021” and many companies; including Microsoft Japan, Mizuho Financial Group, and UNIQLO among them, have already started implementing it. 

The new shorter work week is expected to help workers have a better work-life balance and increase productivity by reducing the number of hours worked each day. 

In 2019 and 2020, Microsoft Japan trialed the system and found that it had a positive impact on employee satisfaction, productivity, and power consumption. 

Employees responded positively to the system, with 90% of them saying it had a positive impact on their lives.  

Many reports that the 4-day work week system may be the way of the future for Japan, as it seeks to create a better work-life balance for its citizens, while still encouraging productivity. 

New Zealand

New Zealand’s efforts towards a 4-day workweek are mainly being led by the private sector, with Unilever – a company known for producing Dove, Rexona, Surf, and Persil products – taking part in an 18-month pilot. The standard 100:80:100 model was used, where employees were asked to maintain productivity while being paid 100% salary for 80% of the time. All Unilever’s employees, as well as the company’s stakeholders and partners, participated in the trial. According to 4 Day Week Global, the trial resulted in revenue growth, positive employee engagement, decreased absenteeism, and a visible increase in enthusiasm at work.  

Unilever New Zealand Managing Director Cameron Heath summarized the trial by saying, “The 4-Day Work Week is an extension of Unilever’s commitment to a performance culture that drives a triple bottom-line impact – people, planet, and profit.” – report


It is clear that the concept of a 4-day workweek is gaining traction across the globe, and that more and more countries are actively experimenting with it. We saw examples of countries that have embraced or are experimenting with it, but there are more that will come to the table as results are shared. We can openly say that it is quite possible that the 4 workweeks will become more and more common, and that it could be the way of the future for many countries.

Piotr Gacon