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The Shorter Work Week Really Worked in Iceland. Here’s How

Can you really work fewer hours for the same pay, while maintaining productivity? Yes, say these participants of a study in Iceland 

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Testing Out a Shorter Work Week

Even as the Covid-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to reimagine the workplace, researchers in Iceland were already conducting two trials of a shorter work week that involved about 2,500 workers – more than 1% of the country’s working population. They found that the experiment was an “overwhelming success” – workers were able to work less, get paid the same, while maintaining productivity and improving personal well-being.

The Iceland research has been one of the few large, formal studies on the subject. So how did participants pull it off and what lessons do they have for the rest of the world? Bloomberg News interviewed four Icelanders, who described some of the initial problems that accompanied changed schedules, yet they were helped by their organizations which took concerted steps like introducing formal training programs on time-management to teach them how to reduce their hours while maintaining productivity.

The trials also worked because both employees and employers were flexible, willing to experiment and make changes when something didn’t work. In some cases, employers had to add a few hours back after cutting them too much.  Iceland did the trials partly because people were reporting relatively long working hours, averaging 44.4 hours per week — the third highest of Eurostat countries in 2018.

Participants in the Iceland study reduced their hours by three to five hours per week without losing pay. While the shorter work hours have so far largely been adopted in Iceland’s public sector, workers and managers used simple techniques to maintain productivity while cutting back on time in the office. As employees from Silicon Valley to Wall Street look for better ways to balance work and life, here are tips from four Icelanders.

Hjalti Guðmundsson, Director, Office for Land and Road Operation, a government agency that manages land