By now you’ve probably heard that workers in Scandinavian countries work fewer hours per week than workers in other parts of the world. You’ve also probably heard that Scandinavians are overall happier in their workplaces than people in many other places? Is it because they work fewer hours? Perhaps. But I don’t think working a few less hours per week on average is really the sole determinant of happiness at work. I’ve outlined five small factors which I believe contribute to Scandinavians’ happiness at work.
1. COFFEE IS GOLDEN
Scandinavians are some of the biggest consumers of coffee in the world, and this spills over into working life as well. Here in Denmark, we drink the least amount of coffee compared to the other Scandinavian countries, but most offices have coffee ready all day for employees. In Sweden, they take it a step further and even have a word designated for coffee breaks, fika, which is almost a religious institution. Finnish offices also have company-wide coffee breaks throughout the day. Life is just a little bit better with coffee.
2. IT IS OKAY TO WORK FROM HOME SOMETIMES
When I worked in China, we weren’t allowed to work from home – ever – even when the Internet was down! In these instances, it was preferable to have people sitting around doing nothing than be out of the office and productive. A byproduct of the culture of work/life balance in Scandinavia is that people here recognise that everyone works differently, and people don’t always need to be monitored in order to be productive. The ability to work from home is particularly beneficial during flu season. That’s not to say that Scandinavian workers skip work all the time – but there is an added flexibility here that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.
3. THE TEAM COMES FIRST
Scandinavians are all about collaboration, and this extends into the workplace. A flat management structure is common, which is considered to be both empowering and motivating to employees. Within teams, everyone is considered equal and valued as a contributor to the evolution of the company’s core vision and success.
4. SAY THANK YOU OFTEN
In Swedish/Danish/Norwegian, there is no proper word for “please” but there is one for thank you, and it is used often! It pays to say thank you to the people you work with, to let them know their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
5. IT IS OKAY TO ASK QUESTIONS
I could have used this myself a few years ago when I didn’t get a job I had been interviewed intensely for. The feedback: I didn’t ask enough questions. I think in the American professional culture, people asking a lot of questions are seen as less capable of figuring things out on their own – a trait which is valued stateside. Here, I feel like people are more comfortable asking questions when they don’t know something, rather than go at it alone.