1. Work-life balance
If there is one thing Icelanders value, it is a healthy work-life balance. Icelanders are very family-centric—not surprising given the island's population of 369,000. An average Icelandic workweek is 40 hours, including lunchtime and breaks, and is often flexible. Icelanders tend to complain if their commute passes the 30-minute mark, so travel times are very reasonable relative to much of the world. In the Reykjavik vicinity, there are many public bus lines. However, many prefer to cycle to work on the extensive bike lane network.
Icelandic companies are typically family-friendly and flexible, understanding that there are dentist appointments, teacher's meetings, and calls to pick up a sick child. Summer holidays are generous, and there are 16 public holidays. Much of Iceland seems to shut down in July. Probably not a coincidence considering July is one of the best weather months, and many of the kindergartens are closed!
2. Equality at work
Iceland has been a leader in gender equality since 2009. While there is still room to improve, the gender pay gap for the same job is only 4.5%. In 2017, the Equal Pay Certification was instituted for transparency. Larger workplaces must prove that they pay their employees the same wage for the same job without discriminating based on sex.
Perhaps one of the most significant factors concerning gender equality in Iceland is 12 months of paid maternity and paternity leave. Each parent receives six months of paid leave, with one month transferable between the parents. Extended parental leave encourages both parents to fulfill their family obligations with their little one(s), increases employment, and equalizes opportunities in the labor market. After a year, many parents bring their child to a "day parent" (Dagforeldrar) until the age of two, when they qualify for kindergarten.
3. Easygoing business environment
Icelandic business culture is not very hierarchal, and no matter where you work in the company, everyone is treated equally. Because of the patronymic naming system, everyone is addressed by their first name, making the business environment less formal than elsewhere. Networking is relatively easy since the population is so tightly knit. Do you have a new idea and want to talk to a particular person? More than likely, you probably work with someone who can connect you to their aunt, brother-in-law, cousin, etc., who will be willing to help you out.
Meetings tend to be brief and to the point, with an honest conversation about what needs to happen next. Culturally, this can take some getting used to but tends to result in efficient meetings. Many meetings also take place over lunch or coffee.
4. Union representation
Icelandic unions are influential and well respected. They negotiate for higher wages and better benefits for their members and represent you if you require any help dealing with your employer. They also offer continuing education reimbursement, summerhouse rentals, and many other grants depending on your union and employment type.
5. Value innovation and creative approach
Despite its small size, Iceland is remarkable at developing innovative solutions and creative output. Who knows—perhaps this is due to Iceland's relative isolation, the long winters, inspiration from the stunning scenery, or the northern lights. But, it likely boils down to the robust and inclusive Nordic welfare system. The tax-financed social benefits of childcare, healthcare, parental leave, and high-quality education—with affordable university options—encourages individuals to pursue their passions and explore new ways of doing things without fear of "falling through the cracks." Combined with the Icelandic knack for ingenuity, many startups have flourished in Iceland, discovering unique solutions for meeting business needs globally.
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