Happiness at Work: What Danish Employees Have to Cheer About

The United States won 121 medals out of a possible 306 at the 2016 Rio Olympics which just concluded in Brazil.

You probably are not aware that Denmark defeated the United States 2-0 in Women’s Badminton (doubles) at the Rio Olympics.

More importantly, you may not know how we compare to Denmark in the area of workplace happiness.

Let’s start with a question:  Do you know the English word for happiness at work?

Oh that’s right, we don’t have one.

Denmark, on the other hand, has not only coined a word for workplace happiness: arbejdsgloede (arbejde means work and gloede means happiness) but they are also piling up the gold medals when it comes to employee-friendly workplace practices.

In fact, surveys consistently find that Danish employees are happier than their counterparts in the U.S .

There is a compelling business case for what they are doing because, not surprisingly, happy employees outperform unhappy employees and, not incidentally, they are a lot more fun to work with.

So what are the Danes doing that results in more engaged and productive employees?

It all starts with reasonable working hours.

In 2015 the average Danish employee worked 1457 hours while their American counterparts logged 1790 hours.

Danish companies are not built on the premise that overworking is the best evidence of commitment. They neither expect, nor encourage, the kind of 60-70 hour work weeks that are common in many U.S. companies. Their practice is consistent with a growing body of research that demonstrates working long hours not only is corrosive to personal life but does not result in increased productivity.

Equally important, Danish companies empower employees to feel more autonomous at work.

The sociologist Geert Hofstede has developed a mechanism (“power distance”) to measure just how hierarchical a workplace is and the Danes have the lowest power distance in the world at 18 while U.S. workplaces come in at 40.

You can think of power distance as a measure of the difference between feeling micro-managed and feeling you have the discretion to choose the best approach to accomplishing work objectives.

Danish employees also benefit from enlightened public policy when it comes to unemployment benefits and worker training programs.

In the United States if you lose your job it can lead to financial disaster. As a result many people stay in a job they hate because they are terrified to leave.

In Denmark, workers receive unemployment insurance of 90% of their salary for a period of two years!

In terms of worker training, Denmark has a world class set of government, union and corporate policies that allows most employees to be subsidized for training to acquire new job skills. Denmark invests heavily in the concept of life-long employee education.

The United States is the number one economy in the world ($17.9 trillion GDP) but Denmark (33rd largest economy at $342 billion GDP) is leading us by several measures in the area of citizen well-being and happiness.

Here are some of the most relevant scores:

  1. The poverty rate in Denmark is 5.4% vs 17.9% in the U.S.
  2. In Denmark 0% of citizens lack health insurance while the number in the U.S. is 10.4%
  3. Denmark provides 52 weeks of paid parental leave. The U.S. provides zero.
  4. Denmark mandates 5 weeks a year of paid vacation. The U.S. mandates zero.

There is a lot to admire about this country that has a word for happiness at work.

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