The Danish art of enjoying work

How can we all channel a bit more arbejdsglæd into our working days?  

By: Nicola Robey,   3 minutes


Danes are great at some good things. Like pastries, not being racist and having a jolly nice time at work. In fact, Scandinavia is the only region in the world with a word to describe happiness at work, ‘arbejdsglæde’.  So how can we all channel a bit more arbejdsglæd, into our working days? 

Money. Dough. Sweet mullar. Earning the means to help you to buy goods, services and a place to lay your head is important. And while money is a key factor in why you go to work instead of spending time your family, (or watching endless amounts of Netflix for that matter), as our pesky whipper-snapper generation will tell you, money is just one factor in the quest for happiness at work.

Studies have shown that people are 12% more productive when they’re enjoying their jobs.

It might seem like a no-brainer, but when people are happier, they produce better work. Studies have shown that people are 12% more productive when they’re enjoying their jobs. Being more positive towards work, can propel your drive to succeed, make you more willing to invest yourself in a company, and give you  the emotional freedom to be more creative.

But building great company culture doesn’t happen on its own. While you can rely on some standout employees to bring their sterling personalities to their roles, it takes more than the occasional youtube video or stapler set in a jelly to bring high spirits to the heart of your team.

In Denmark, a country regularly voted one of the happiest nations in the world, a job isn’t just a way of bringing home the bacon (sorry).  Translated literally, arbejds = work  glæde = happiness, arbejdsglæde (workhappiness) is a fundamental part of the Scandinavian’s working culture. It’s no gimmick, and certainly isn’t a flash in the pan management style, arbejdsglæde is an everyday way of life, built into the heart of Danish working structure. Lower working hours, clearly defined work/life balance, and generous annual leave (some companies even close down over school holidays), may go some way to explain why Danish employees are among the most productive in the OECD and why Denmark has weathered the financial crisis well, with a current unemployment rate of only 5.4%.

So taking some ‘arbejdsglæde’ inspiration from the Danes, here are some relatively easy, cheap, non-cringe, Scandinavian strategies to turn the frowns upside down – without a trust exercise in sight.

Break bread together. Lunch hours are precious, which is why spending yours with your work friends is a generous gesture. Learning about co-workers lives beyond work can often trigger new ideas and opportunities too. Danish workers will often make time to eat together as a team, with some workplaces blocking out Friday mornings for team breakfast time.

Punctuate the routine. The Danes like to acknowledge an occasion – with many more helligdage (national holidays) than most countries enjoy throughout the year. Nodding to an occasion adds flavour to life, and brings more variety to people’s days. Put the effort into marking moments, dates, and important occasions,  a great way to break up the ol’ routine. And an excuse for lots more baked goods, bravo!

Bring the spirit of kindness. Everyone’s different. And sometimes, the root cause of our unhappiness at work could be someone else you work with (awkward!). From distracting behaviour, to constant moaning, chances are they don’t realise the negative effect their behaviour has on you, and perhaps the rest of the team. The answer? Discussion is a central element of Danish culture, with children being taught to express their opinions diplomatically from an early age. So acknowledge the issue, while channelling the spirit of kindness in a calm, patient, liberally accepting Danish manner.

Make a list of your successes. The folk at happy Danish company Woohoo Inc, advocate making a list of the three successes you’ve experienced that day before you head home. It doesn’t have to be something huge, but scribbling three small successes, such as sending a tricky email or ticking something off your to-do list, will bring a sense of achievement to even the most frustrating of days.

But beyond these snippets of happy working wisdom, there is one important thing to remember – ultimately happiness at work starts with you. What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for everyone. Your happiness is your responsibility, so identify the barriers that stand in the way of your arbejdsglæde, and work out some positive ways of tackling them. 

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