3 Lessons in Workplace Happiness We Can Learn From the Danish

Thanks to a 2015 World Happiness report released by the United Nations, it’s now fairly common knowledge that the Danish are among the happiest people in the world. But few know that one of the very things that makes them happy is also what makes them so incredibly productive.

Denmark has one of the happiest workforces in the world.

Danes happen to embrace a much different work culture than Americans do, and this has benefited the country as a whole. Those happy workplaces produce an increasingly productive and engaged staff, resulting in more innovative companies that can compete globally. In fact, Denmark weathered the financial crisis with an unemployment rate that reached its peak at 6.2%, compared to America’s peak rate of 10%.

If job satisfaction is good for business, the question then becomes: what can we do to mimic Danish companies’ workplace culture?

Provide a sense of growth and accomplishment

For starters, workers need to have a sense of growth and accomplishment. Since the 1800s, Denmark has enforced a set of governmental policies to ensure workers have access to paid training to pick up new skills. These “active labor market policies” provide the country with a pool of employees that are not only highly trained for a changing job market, but also very competitive internationally.

Of course, changing government policies is probably outside of your job description. But, by encouraging a strong learning culture, you create an environment where your employees gain the skills to compete globally...all while providing your company with a safety net of talent to handle shifts in the market.

Give them autonomy

In some cultures, organizations are largely top-down and a manager’s word is law. In others, collaboration is much more the norm. In Denmark, managers are seen more as facilitators and partners, and their suggestions are more likely to be taken as advice or recommendations, rather than commands.

Try giving employees more autonomy and see what happens. Having a well-trained staff that has the freedom to pick up and learn the skills they need on demand is one way to get the ball rolling toward a more autonomous work force. Not only will this decrease the need for micro-managing staff, but employees will also have a greater sense of ownership of their work.

Change the way we look at working hours

Changing your organization’s attitude toward working hours can have a significant impact on happiness too. For example: When a Danish employee works over 40 hours in a week, she isn’t praised the way an American worker would be. Instead, her manager might actually ask what is wrong, and what might help.

Why is this reaction significant? Danish managers understand that working too much leads to burn-out, which is ultimately bad for business. When a job gets in the way of someone’s personal life, he or she becomes unhappy and that unhappiness impacts work. So, when management sees someone working far beyond what is expected (or healthy), they will try to diagnose why the work is piling up.

By reducing the pressure to “live and breathe” one’s work, employees are free to live a healthier lifestyle too -- which in turn reduces healthcare costs, saves time finding replacements, and encourages a happy and loyal workforce.

So what can we learn from the Danish? A lot. By providing your employees with opportunities to sharpen their skills and work autonomously -- and by minimizing the pressure to “live for work” -- American companies can create a happier workforce. And a happier workforce is more resilient and better able to ride the waves of the economy.

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