Iceland’s Short Work Week Experiment

If employees could be just as productive in a shorter amount of time, would your company adopt a shorter work week?

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I fell in love with Iceland on my recent trip there in 2022. In addition to the amazing scenery, I was already in love with their approach to work. First, we saw their work toward closing the gender wage gap and, now, new steps have been taken to shorten the work week! Today, we talk about the amazing work week research coming out of Iceland and encourage organizations everywhere to think more creatively about how to improve work and life.

Work Week Research

Starting in 2015, two large-scale trials were conducted across Iceland shortening work hours from 40 per week to 35 or 36 per week. The trials aimed to understand how a shortened work week impacted employees’ work-life balance and the impact on overall productivity. A variety of jobs and organizations were included in the trials, including positions with irregular shifts. The trials lasted until 2019 and results were just published this year.

What would you do if your weekly work planner had fewer hours in it?

We love a good multi-year study. And, in this case, the findings make it even better! First, productivity improved or stayed the same. In other words, even with less time, employees were getting the same amount of work done. This is obviously a big win since companies are often worried that less time at work means less work gets done. Plus, it justified not changing people’s pay. The trial ensured all employees maintained their original salaries even though their hours decreased. Luckily, these trials proved that you can pay for the output (productivity) and not the hours.

Second, employee well-being increased across the board. Stress and burnout declined. Health and work-life balance improved. Employees commented on the amount of time they had to complete chores and household work during the week so that weekends were actually relaxing. In addition, many employees shared that they had more time for family and friends. People felt productive in both their work lives and their personal lives. These results really paint a beautiful picture of why reducing hours is actually a great thing!

What Did Iceland Do?

If you’ve been keeping up with our content, you probably expected these results. Burnt out employees tend to be less productive. Who can do good work when they are exhausted? We also know that challenges with work-life balance can be problematic to how work is done too. And, we know that happy employees are more productive and higher performing. Finally, there’s already been good research on the positive impacts of 4 day work weeks. So, why aren’t people making changes based on all of this good research?

I wouldn’t mind going back to explore Iceland with more hours in the work week!

Good news for folks in Iceland! They are making changes there. Roughly 86% of their working population has now seen a reduced work week or can negotiate for one. The country has made large systemic changes to encourage employers and employees to do the right thing and work less!

Sadly, not everyone is following this example. I’m not sure what it’ll take other companies outside of Iceland to step up and make the right changes. There are some cultural values that may be barriers in certain places. If you are an employee, share this story! Spread the word of the great research supporting better hours for everyone. If you are a leader or have influence in an organization, consider how you can implement this at least for your team. And if you own or run a business, please do something and make a huge impact! I can guarantee your employees will be very loyal, happy, and productive!

…now back to planning my move to Iceland!

Originally Published: July 25, 2021

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