Iceland Introduces Shorter Work Weeks Post-Pandemic

By Hannah Claire Brimelow

Iceland reduced its workweek after finding productivity was maintained and workers were happier.

According to U.S. News & World Report, “the Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic national government conducted a series of trials between 2015 and 2019 to test the efficacy of a shorter workweek. During the trials, which involved about 1% of Iceland’s working population across a variety of work schedules and industries, workers shifted from a 40-hour workweek to a 35- or 36-hour one with no cut in pay. After the trials revealed that a shorter workweek improved worker well being, 86% of the country’s workers have either moved to shorter working hours or have the ability to negotiate shorter hours in their workplace.”

The study was the world’s largest reduced workweek trial for the public sector. Over 2,500 employees in Iceland participated. The reduced hours were implemented in a variety of ways depending on the workplace. Some workers were permitted to clock in and out at new times. Other had shorter meeting and breaks to end the professional day earlier. Productivity was not negatively impacted, the study found.

“Participants broadly reported more time for errands, more participation in domestic duties, more time to oneself, less stress and more exercise,” says the Daily Caller.

After over a year of remote work due to pandemic lockdowns, Iceland is not the only country reevaluating work-life balance. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested business “in a position to do so” should move to a four-day work week, which could in turn boost domestic tourism.

“I’ve heard lots of people suggesting we should have a four-day week, ultimately that really sits between employers and employees…There’s lots of things we’ve learned about COVID and just that flexibility of people working from home – the productivity that can be driven out of that,” she said on FacebookLive in May. Tourism and the industries that support tourism account for almost 10% of the countries GDP.

Unilever moved its New Zealand staff to a four-day work week in November of 2020, signaling a positive corporate endorsement of abandoning the standard 40-hour week.

In 2019, Microsoft Japan moved to a four-day work week and productivity increased by almost 40 percent, Mashable noted.

In America, the 40-hour workweek dates back to the 1860s. The National Labor Union unsuccessful lobbied Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday in August of 1866. Then, in 1867, Illinois succeeded in mandating the eight-hour workday with new legislation and massive strikes followed. On May 19, 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a proclamation protecting wages and an eight-hour workday for government workers. By the 1900s, the private sector began to adopt the eight-hour day with Ford Motors most notably adopting a 40-hour, five-day work week.

Business Insider notes that despite the eventual standardization of the 40-hour-work week by the United State Government, most people work longer hours. In fact, “there’s evidence that some Americans see working around the clock as a kind of status symbol. While many people claim to be working 60- or 80-hour workweeks, much of that time isn’t very productive. In fields like finance and consulting, some workers may only be pretending to work 80-hour weeks,” the outlet said in June of 2020.

Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, France, and Germany all report average wages over $44,000 and average workweeks less than 40 hours total.

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