Going Public: Iceland's Journey to a Shorter Working Week


  • From 2015-2019, Iceland ran two large-scale trials of a reduced working week of 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay. The results have been analysed for the first time in a joint project by Autonomy and the research organisation Association for Sustainability and Democracy (Alda) in Iceland. 
  • Analysis of the results which included 2,500 workers – over 1% of Iceland’s entire working population – suggests important lessons for both employees and businesses.
  • The trials were an overwhelming success, and since completion 86% of the country’s workforce are now working shorter hours or gaining the right to shorten their hours.
  • Productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces. 
  • Worker wellbeing dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance.
  • The trials also remained revenue neutral for both the city council and the government, providing a crucial, and so far largely overlooked blueprint of how future trials might be organised in other countries around the world.

Authors:

Guðmundur D. Haraldsson
Jack Kellam

Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said:

“This study shows that the world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success. It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – and lessons can be learned for other governments.

“Iceland has taken a big step towards the four-day working week, providing a great real-life example for Local Councils and those in the UK public sector considering implementing it here in the UK.”

Gudmundur D. Haraldsson, a researcher at Alda, said:

“The Icelandic shorter working week journey tells us that not only is it possible to work less in modern times, but that progressive change is possible too. 

“Our roadmap to a shorter working week in the public sector should be of interest to anyone who wishes to see working hours reduced.”

This project was supported by the Alex Ferry Foundation and the Guerrilla Foundation.