Iceland adopts the 35 hour work week

Most of us dream of a shorter workweek. Usually, this would mean sacrificing a portion of income for more free time. But what if you could work less and get paid the same wage?

Iceland ran two experiments to find out if such a dream was possible, and to the delight of workers everywhere, it is. The two trials, conducted in 2015 and 2017, set out to determine the effects of shorter working hours combined with no decrease in wages. When it came time to analyze the results, researchers found that worker well-being shot up across the board without any noticeable negative impact on public services or business activities. The experiments proved so successful that they caused a revolutionary shift across Iceland’s workforce. Today, the 35-hour working week model is a reality for around 90 percent of Iceland’s working-age adults.

How did the 35 hour week experiment work?

The trials involved over 2,500 workers. While this might not seem like a huge number at first, it comprises over 1 percent of Iceland’s entire working population. The two trials were located in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, and the Icelandic government. Most of the participants in the study started with the standard forty-hour working week and were shifted to a thirty-five or thirty-six-hour week. They came from all sorts of working backgrounds. Many office-based workers were included in the study, but it also covered schools, maintenance facilities, nursing homes, care centres for the disabled, and even the Reykjavik mayor’s office.

What were the effects of reduced working hours?

According to the report’s coauthor, Guðmundur D. Haraldsson, they found no drop in the quality of services provided. This may surprise some people, but Haraldsson claims that the workforce developed new strategies to achieve the same standard of work with fewer hours. Perhaps this is due to the positive effects experienced by the participants in the study. Worker well-being indicators showed a boost in overall satisfaction. People were able to spend less time in the office and more time with their families. As a result, stress levels dropped both at work and home. People felt less susceptible to burnout and workplace tension. Overall, the study showed a positive correlation between fewer working hours and a healthier work-life balance. While the 35-hour working week hasn’t rolled out across the globe, Haraldsson believes that Iceland’s model demonstrates promise for other contexts as well. “I believe that trials of shorter hours can be initiated anywhere there is significant interest in doing so, be it from local government, national government, companies, corporations, or nonprofits,” Haraldsson said. It might not be an everyday reality yet, but we can only hope that more countries follow Iceland’s lead and encourage a healthier work-life balance for all workers.