Public sector trials 4-day week successfully in Iceland

Reykjavik City and the Icelandic government ran two large-scale trials of a reduced working week of 35-36 hours with no reduction in pay between 2014-2021.

Iceland Working Hours ReportAnalysis from the Association for Democracy and Sustainability (Alda) shows that productivity and service provision remained the same or improved across the majority of trial workplaces, and worker well-being dramatically increased across a range of indicators, from perceived stress and burnout, to health and work-life balance.

Government-managed contact centres saw an increased proportion of calls answered - achieving higher productivity (93% versus 85%) against a 'control' contact centre workplace not included in the reduced working hours trial. The performance of local government contact centres was similarly not degraded by the shorter working hours.

How to effectively reduce public sector working hours

Across central and local government, different departments tested multiple approaches to increasing productivity while reducing hours worked. These included:

  • Moving services to digital provision.
  • More effective prioritisation of daily tasks.
  • Delegating and designating tasks more effectively amongst staff.
  • Emphasis on performing personal errands outside of working time.
  • Fewer, shorter, more focused meetings. One workplace decided meetings could only be scheduled before 3pm, for example.
  • Replacing meetings with emails.
  • Reduction in time spent on coffee breaks.
  • In schools, childrens’ lunch breaks were staggered, so that fewer staff were needed to supervise.
  • Introducing more lean management processes.

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.

The trials involved 2500 workers – over 1% of Iceland’s entire working population – and have been a springboard for rolling-out the right to shorten working hours for 86% of the country’s workforce.



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