The results of a very long experiment involving a short work week have been published. The pilot project took place in Iceland and lasted from 2015 to 2019. The director of the Autonomous Research Group, an independent British think tank, called it “a huge success.”
Over the years, Iceland has been able to compete with Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland in terms of social arrangements for citizens, i.e. a stronger health care system and parental leave. But Icelandic citizens had to work longer hours than other liberal countries. It is not good for work-life balance.
A pilot project was launched from 2015 to 2019. It includes more than 2,500 employees from the capital Reykjavik and the national government, representing more than 1 percent of the active population in Iceland. Participants from various branches of the public sector – including managers – went from a 40-hour work week to one of 35 or 36 hours, without loss of pay. Not everyone had 9 to 5 jobs, and some had irregular hours.
The results of the large-scale pilot project now seem to be in line with previous studies: everyone felt happier, healthier, and more productive. “The Greatest Success”, compiles Will Strong. He is the Research Director of Thought Tank Autonomy, which published the research results with the Icelandic Association and Sustainability and Democracy (ALTA). “It shows that the public sector is ready to pioneer short working weeks and that other governments can learn lessons,” Strong said. The move also proved to be cost-neutral for the Reykjavk city services and the national government.
Despite working fewer hours, productivity remained stable or increased. Employees felt better about themselves, experienced less stress and were less likely to burn. The work-life balance was also much better because there was more work, hobbies, housework and more time for family. “This is a gift from heaven,” one Reykjavik executive was quoted as saying. “I think it’s so awesome.” Both managers and staff considered the experiment a success. The work time was very efficient. Meetings in particular were often shortened or replaced by emails to avoid wasting time.
The inquiry is not a dead letter. The unions have begun negotiations, and as of 2019, 86 percent of Iceland’s active population has been effectively reduced or entitled to at least one shorter working week. “The Icelandic road for the abbreviated work week not only makes it possible to work less in modern times, but also makes progressive change possible,” says Alta researcher Goodmundur D. Haroldson said.
Previous studies and tests have also shown the benefits of less working hours per week. Pilot projects are still underway in Spain and Unilever in New Zealand. “We have to continue this journey,” said Icelandic parliamentarian George Olsen Gunnarstadtir. “It seems to me that the next step is to reduce working hours to 30 hours a week.”
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