July 28, 2021

Iceland is cutting working hours – with groundbreaking results

07.07.2021 – 08:18

More productivity
Iceland is cutting working hours – with groundbreaking results

Foto: Getty Images/ Travelpix Ltd

As part of an experiment, Iceland cut working hours for 2,500 workers. You can find out what remains of the attempt here.

In a trial in Iceland, 2,500 workers benefited from a shorter working week. A model for the future?

Weekly working hours have fallen on average since the middle of the last century: while after the Second World War it was around 48 hours, the classic working week is now 40 hours. Many think: that is still too much. In addition to working and satisfying human needs such as eating or sleeping, there is hardly any time for hobbies, social contacts and other things to do. A reduction in the 40-hour week is repeatedly demanded in Germany – Iceland has tried it. In a large-scale attempt Iceland cut working hours – with the same salary. The results show that there is actually another way.


Iceland cuts working hours – and increases productivity


2,500 people switched to the four-day week model in Iceland between 2015 and 2019, which corresponds to around one percent of the country’s working population. Instead of 40 hours, they only worked 35 or 36 hours a week, but their salary remained the same. In order to effectively reduce working hours, for example, meetings were shortened or unnecessary tasks were completely eliminated. The aim of the shorter working hours was not only to improve the work-life balance, but also to increase productivity.


The experiment has now ended two years ago and the responsible scientists have presented the results. According to Alda, an Icelandic organization for democracy and sustainability, the trial provides “groundbreaking evidence of the effectiveness of reducing working hours”. A shorter working week not only has positive effects on employees, but also on companies.

That happens when you cut working hours


According to the organization’s report, productivity and performance remained the same or even increased in most operations. The well-being of the employees also improved, they suffered less stress or burnout, were healthier and had a more balanced work-life balance.

And that’s not all: When the experiment officially ended, that in no way meant the end of the shorter working week. On the contrary: the Icelandic trade unions took the good results to heart. Today, according to the report, approximately 86 percent of the Icelandic population have reduced their working hours or have the right to reduce them.


Less working hours, the same salary: a future model?


Will the reduction in working hours also work for other countries – for example for Germany? Der Spiegel objects that it is unclear “how reliable the findings from Iceland are exactly”. It is questionable whether the experiment can be transferred to countries with a “more complex economic structure than Iceland”. Only one thing can help: try it out, just like Spain is doing: In Spain, 400 companies are currently testing the four-day week.


In Germany, the leader of the Left, Katja Kipping, also advocated the four-day week last year. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil also said that he could imagine the four-day week.


The full report on the study results can be found here: Going Public: Iceland’s Journey to a Shorter Working Week


Another suggestion that has been made time and again, especially since the corona pandemic, is the unconditional basic income: That speaks for it, that speaks against it. Will the future after Corona be any different? Find out why resilience is so important in our interview with resilience researcher Karim Fathi.




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