Icelandic Trial Finds That Shorter Work Weeks Can Actually Improve Worker Productivity

Approximately 86% of the country's working population is now covered by shorter working hour contracts, finds a new report

Icelandic Trial Finds That Shorter Work Weeks Can Actually Improve Worker Productivity
Photo:Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

A new report found that less than a decade after Iceland began experimenting with reducing working hours on a national scale, the majority of the country’s workers have shortened work weeks. This shift started back in 2015 when the country began two large-scale trials where the typical 40-hour working week was cut to 35 or 36 hours with no reduction in pay, reports CNBC. The trials were initiated by a council in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, and ultimately included 2,500 workers across a variety of industries and work environments in both typical 9-5 jobs as well as non-standard shift schedules.

After the trials, Icelandic trade unions and their confederations were able to negotiate permanent reductions in working hours for thousands of members across the country. A new report analyzing the trial’s impact found that by June 2021, approximately 86% of Iceland’s working population of just under 200,000 were covered by contracts that either included shorter work weeks or created mechanisms “through which they can negotiate shorter hours in their workplace.”

The report, which was jointly published by think tank Autonomy and research organization Association for Sustainability and Democracy, found that productivity was maintained or even increased when working hours were reduced. As a result of the shorter weeks, workers reported an improvement in their work-life balance and overall well-being. Who would’ve thunk—not being overworked allows people to take better care of themselves AND be more productive when they are working! The report also found that men took on more responsibilities around the house during the trial, which helped reduce family stress.

Iceland isn’t the only country exploring the advantages of a reduction in weekly working hours—in fact, Spain is currently planning a trial of a four-day work week. Unfortunately, even amidst a global pandemic that has stretched every person I know well past their breaking point, American society is far too founded on capitalism and obsessed with “the grind” to be anywhere near adopting a shorter work week on a national level—even though evidence shows that being overworked is literally killing us.

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