A recent survey conducted amongst public sector workers in Iceland reveals that a large majority of workers are satisfied with the shorter hours introduced last year. On the whole, 71% are satisfied with the shorter hours. The survey also reveals that over 63% of workers reported that shorter hours impacted their work positively. The results of the survey was made public in May. The survey highlights important factors in introducing shorter working hours, for both companies and governments alike.
The survey was conducted by Gallup in November and December 2021 for Sameyki, the largest member union of BSRB, the confederation of public sector unions in Iceland. BSRB initiated two trials of shorter hours in the public sector in 2015 and 2017 which lead to new labour contracts which aimed to reduce working hours in the public sector. Their implementation began in January 2021 and May 2021. Separate contracts were signed in the private sector.
In preparation for the introduction of shorter hours, unions and their confederations along with the government executive published extensive guidelines to facilitate the introduction. These guidelines emphasized collaboration and consultation between both workers and managers in the introduction of shorter hours, gave practical advice on which organizational factors to restructure – level of flexibility in the workplace, breaks, responsibility, work processes –, and a step-by-step approach to the introduction itself.
The survey not only casts light on the overwhelming success of the initiative of reducing working time in the public sector as indicated by their popularity with workers discussed earlier, but also what factors lead to this success:
- As the government-confederation guidelines were followed more closely by workplaces, the more well-being workers experienced when hours had been reduced.
- Workers who were consulted with in the introduction of working hour reduction were more likely to be able to reduce their hours in practice. Almost nine out of ten of those who had much a say in the introduction worked 36 hours a week or less while seven out of ten worked 36 hours or less of those who had little say. Also, as workers were more engaged in the process, the more satisfied they were.
- Generally workers at smaller institutions were found to be more satisfied than those who worked at larger ones. Workers at Reykjavík City were more satisfied as well. The survey reveals that as more attention is given to well-being and organization of the workplace, the more successful the introduction. Possibly more attention is given to these factors in smaller institutions than large and also at Reykjavík City, which would explain the findings.
- Instrumental to successfully reducing hours of work generally is that quality of work is not impacted negatively. 85% of workers who said the shorter hours had a very positive effect on their work were very satisfied with reduced hours while only 1% of those who said it impacted them very negatively were satisfied. There was a direct link between levels of participation in the introduction and experience of quality of work.
The survey reveals that only 15% of public sector workers are dissatisfied with the introduction of shorter hours. Most of these are workers on irregular hours (shift workers), along with personnel working within the security sector and cleaning. Sameyki points out that a number of factors explain this dissatisfaction:
- Lack of collaboration and consultation with workers who work irregular hours on behalf of managers, and lack of preparation and discussion on change in work organization.
- Increased government funding, necessary in order to hire more staff in shift-work, has not been realized according to need. The shortage of staff in shift-work in the Icelandic public sector has been a chronic problem for years and predates shorter hours. Shorter hours and reduced workload on staff has been viewed as a key to resolve this chronic problem, but funding is needed in order for that to be possible. As a result of lack of funding, the cycle of too long hours and high workload – which leads to less workers seeking shift-work or workers leaving and again leading to long hours and high workload – is not yet broken.
Overall, the results indicate that collaboration, consultation and participation are key to reducing working hours, along with maintaining good quality of work. Extra care has to be taken with shift-work and level of staffing when reducing hours in sectors suffering from long-term chronic staff shortages and high workload.