Iceland has achieved the holy grail for working stiffs: same pay for shorter hours.Results from two trials of reduced hours showed no productivity loss or decline in service levels, while employees reported less stress and an improved work-life balance, researchers at U.K.-based think tank Autonomy and Iceland’s Association for Sustainable Democracy said in a report.
Achieving shorter hours with sustained productivity and service levels involved rethinking how tasks were completed, according to the report. That included shortening meetings or replacing them with emails, cutting out unnecessary tasks, and rearranging shifts.
The trials, conducted from 2015 to 2019, cut hours to about 35 a week from 40 with no reduction in pay. Involving about 2,500 workers, equivalent to more than 1% of the Nordic country’s working population, results showed their “wellbeing dramatically increased,” the researchers said. Since then, 86% of Iceland’s entire working population have either moved to shorter hours or can negotiate to do so.
In Nordic peer Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 35, has suggested a four-day work week is worth looking into, saying employees deserve some of the trickle-down benefits of improved productivity. Even so, her government is currently not working on such policy.
Workers went from a 40-hour weekly schedule to 35- or 36-hour weekly schedules without a reduction in pay. The trials were launched after agitation from labor unions and grassroots organizations that pointed to Iceland’s low rankings among its Nordic neighbors when it comes to work-life balance.
Workers across a variety of public- and private-sector jobs participated in the trials. They included people working in day cares, assisted living facilities, hospitals, museums, police stations and Reykjavik government offices.
Participants reported back on how they reduced their hours. A common approach was to make meetings shorter and more focused. One workplace decided that meetings could be scheduled only before 3 p.m. Others replaced them altogether with email or other electronic correspondence.
Some workers started their shifts earlier or later, depending on demand. For example, at a day care, staff took turns leaving early as children went home. Offices with regular business hours shortened those hours, while some services were moved online.
Some coffee breaks were shortened or eliminated. The promise of a shorter workweek led people to organize their time and delegate tasks more efficiently, the study found.
Working fewer hours resulted in people feeling more energized and less stressed. They spent more time exercising and seeing friends, which then had a positive effect on their work, they said.
By: Kati Pohjanpalo
Many countries regulate the work week by law, such as stipulating minimum daily rest periods, annual holidays, and a maximum number of working hours per week. Working time may vary from person to person, often depending on economic conditions, location, culture, lifestyle choice, and the profitability of the individual’s livelihood.
For example, someone who is supporting children and paying a large mortgage might need to work more hours to meet basic costs of living than someone of the same earning power with lower housing costs. In developed countries like the United Kingdom, some workers are part-time because they are unable to find full-time work, but many choose reduced work hours to care for children or other family; some choose it simply to increase leisure time.
Standard working hours (or normal working hours) refers to the legislation to limit the working hours per day, per week, per month or per year. The employer pays higher rates for overtime hours as required in the law. Standard working hours of countries worldwide are around 40 to 44 hours per week (but not everywhere: from 35 hours per week in France to up to 112 hours per week in North Korean labor camps) and the additional overtime payments are around 25% to 50% above the normal hourly payments. Maximum working hours refers to the maximum working hours of an employee. The employee cannot work more than the level specified in the maximum working hours law.
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