Four Reasons to Love Working in Iceland

Posted on September 5, 2014 by Don MacPherson.

I have two passions in life. One is helping people. The other is seeing the world. This peripatetic lifestyle has brought me to over 60 countries with Iceland being the most recent trip.

In every country I visit, I love to study how people work. I watch the employees interact with customers, I evaluate employee conscientiousness and engagement, and I ask questions about workplace environment. There is a lesson to be learned in every country – whether it is something that needs to be avoided or something we should start doing immediately.

As I surveyed the country, here were a handful of things that stood out to me about observing and discussing the Icelandic workplace.

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A view from Borgarnes, Iceland

Service vs. Revenue

I bought a few things at the grocery store the first day. When I checked out the clerk said that I would not need the bottle of water. “The water from the tap comes from the same spring that the company uses to bottle the water,” she said. I put the water back, they lost $3 in additional revenue, and I walked away delighted by the candor.

At dinner one night, a waiter took the order then advised us to cancel the side dishes that were ordered. “You will have plenty of food with the entrees and appetizers,” he advised. He was right. They lost about $15 in additional sales.

If these two incidents are indicative of the service culture in Iceland, then we can conclude that delighting customers takes priority over maximizing revenue. As a customer, that makes me want to go back to those places.

Work/Life Balance

If you are about to become a parent in Iceland, there is no need to stress about rushing your infant to day care while you quickly return to work. The mother gets three months paid leave. The father gets three months of paid leave. Then there are three additional months that the mother and father can split. “The thought is that every baby should be able to stay home for the first nine months with either the mother or the father,” according to HR expert and Iceland citizen Herdís Pála Pálsdóttir.

If a baby is not in your future, don’t worry. In Iceland, full-time employees get a minimum 24 days of vacation for every 12 months they work.

Pay Equity

Raising the minimum wage and excessive CEO pay are filling news headlines in the United States. It is common that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies make over 100 times what their median paid employees make. In Iceland, the spread is much narrower.

The highest paid CEO in Iceland made just under $900,000 in 2012. In 2012, the highest paid U.S. CEO, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, made $96.2M.

Obviously, the size of major U.S. companies makes them much more complex to lead. However, CEOs in Iceland are going to have a much easier time asking employees to bring their best to work every day when the rewards that those employees receive are in the same vicinity as their CEO’s.

Career Development

Due to the size of the nation and labor market, Icelandic organizations give employees broader responsibilities than in other countries. Most employees are generalists who are able to perform multiple roles in their organizations. Therefore, they need to continually learn new skills and hone the ones they already have.

This is much different than in countries where so many employees are specialists. Career development is a strong driver of employee engagement. When employees are continually given chances to broaden their skills, they are not only motivated to give their best, but their long-term employment future is constantly improving too.

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Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle

Iceland is one of the most unique places I have every visited. They have beautiful waterfalls, reliable geysers, and the lava landscapes make you believe you could be on the surface of the moon. The country’s 320,000 citizens enjoy safe, clean streets. They have what seems like a very happy, healthy society and the work culture they have developed is a big contributor to making that society possible.

One response to “Four Reasons to Love Working in Iceland”

  1. Herdis Pala says:

    Great article, points out many good and interesting points other countries could maybe learn from….

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