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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9 responses to “Iceland Introduces Shorter Work Weeks Post-Pandemic”

  1. Bidzo says:

    An interesting point in this study is the average work per worker vs productivity graph. Lost on this is the fact that most construction and labour work performed in the Western European countries is performed by posted workers from Eastern and Southern Europe, or from further abroad. The temporary nature of the workers is often gamed to allow for more realistic overtime allowances. A posted Bosnian worker in Norway might work an entire year’s overtime allowance in 3 months then move to a posting in Denmark and do the same thing again. Similarly domestic workers – especially in oil rich Norway – on extravagant union agreements that allow them up to six weeks off between shifts do not spend all of their time off stacking firewood. They take jobs in other adjacent countries or run a side hustle (where hours worked are not counted for the purpose of government statistics). Actually I retract some of that – I’m sure at least a few of them stack firewood as a side hustle.

  2. Anton_Heimdal says:

    Thank you 😁

  3. Stickywicket1977 says:

    I’ve been to Iceland place has like 200,000 people there in the entire country. If that island wasn’t a strategic landing point it would be just another place cold as fuck

  4. cutter says:

    Yeah, haha. Ask anyone who is self-employed about “shorter work weeks.”

  5. Swiftmind says:

    I look forward to the very scientific reports in 20-30 years on how 30 hours of work a week is very beneficial to our health and happiness. Due to the increased amounts of automation from AI assistance and robotics, people don’t need to do as much. So they can be just as productive at 30 hours then 35! This will be a boost to the economy since the people can do more of what they want! Glorious day for science and humanity overall!

    Bad jokes aside, perhaps the better approach is more flexibility with work schedules. Flex time as its called for office workers in the US. We all need to work at the same core hours, like 11-3 PM each day. But outside of that it is up to the individual. As long as their work is getting done, who cares what the hours are.

  6. Lystic says:

    @Anton_Heimdal
    Thank you for your comment. It’s always good to hear from the people who live it.

  7. Anton_Heimdal says:

    Hit here.

    Being from Iceland and knowing people in the healthcare sector, preschool and just recently heard an interview with someone from the police, this experiment had negative effect on workers well being who were not office workers. They reported more increased stress, lethargy and annoyance being very often if not every week understaffed. That even got worse when individuals had to take sick leaves and the company had to move people around to try and mitigate the workload on the understaffed individuals.

    For the government and office workers this is no problem since they can work remote some of the time and can delegate work and projects more easily, but it is quite hard for a person in preschool for example one has a day off and another one is sick and one preschool teacher for that class is not enough. The 36hour/four day work week is a bust for these individuals. But office workers it works out for them.

    They only started implementing these shorter work weeks in the public sector beginning of this year so they don’t have the correct numbers to analyze whether this is good for every job. They should have continued this research and experiment for at least one year to see the effects on all the jobs not just the office workers. Like the list of all the participating companies were were in majority just office jobs.

    Just wanted to shed light on how this effects the aforementioned jobs I talked about and to point out they are all government run.

    Thank you all for you hard work and love all the content, keep up the good work 🙂

  8. IntegratedCrazy says:

    Same pay for less hours work is a pay raise. Of course they’re happier.

  9. CilantroParsley says:

    Government “office workers”, the experiment is now over, everyone is back working normal hours again 😂
    Here is the report in English https://en.alda.is/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/ICELAND_4DW.pdf

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