Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week

Source: Guðmundur D. Haraldsson, Jack Kellam, Autonomy, June 2021

From the executive summary:
• In 2015 and 2017, in response to campaigning by trade unions and civil society organisations, two major trials of a shorter working week were initiated by Reykjavík City Council and the Icelandic national government.

• These eventually involved over 2,500 workers — more than 1% of Iceland’s entire working population — many of which moved from a 40-hour to a 35- or 36-hour working week.

• These trials not only aimed to improve work-life balance, but also to maintain or increase productivity. Reductions in working time were not accom-panied by reductions in pay.

• The trials evolved to include nine-to-five workers alongside those on non-standard shift patterns, and took place in a wide range of workplaces, from offices to playschools, social service providers and hospitals.

• The scale of the trials, combined with the diversity of workplaces involved and the wealth of available quantitative and qualitative data provides ground-breaking evidence for the efficacy of working time reduction.

• Results summarised in this report, based on both qualitative and quantitative data, demonstrate the transformative positive effects of a shorter working week for both employees and businesses alike.

• Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces.

• Worker wellbeing increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance.

• Following the trials’ success, Icelandic trade unions and their confederations achieved permanent reductions in working hours for tens of thousands of their members across the country. In total, roughly 86% of Iceland’s entire working population has now either moved to working shorter hours or have gained the right to shorten their working hours.

•These reductions were won in contracts negotiated between 2019 and 2021, and have already come into effect for most workers. Some of these contracts give shorter hours to all union members, while other contracts stipulate that staff and their individual workplaces can negotiate shorter hours.