The Danish have a word to describe their happiness at work: “arbejdsglæde”. This concept has given them much press lately, and for a good reason. What can we learn about their happiness as it translates into their work? There are several significant differences between the Danish and American work cultures that greatly contribute to overall employee contentment and satisfaction with their jobs.
In the United States, working longer hours at the office and checking email from home is a demonstration of commitment to one’s career. Even on vacations, emails, calls and texts are responded to, reducing the ability to truly enjoy time off. Further, employees risk both their health and their colleagues’ health by going into the office when they are sick. The result is unhappiness and eventual burnout.
On average, Danish workers clock in 1,540 hours per year. They are given 18 weeks of paid maternity leave and 2 weeks of paid paternity leave. Additionally, they are given six weeks of vacation and many national holidays.
In the US, the average worker is at the office 1,790 hours per year. Many have two weeks of vacation time and six paid holidays. Most women are granted four to six weeks of maternity leave with the option of additional unpaid leave after using all available vacation time through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Fathers also have vacation time and FMLA as options in most companies.
The Danes have a generous unemployment policy that allows 90% pay for two years. This gives management the incentive to maintain open communication between teams and managers in order to preserve their best talent and avoid unemployment. This also encourages companies to reinvest in their talent through professional development.
While it sounds like the ideal work environment is in Denmark, there will always a few less desirable workplaces in the Danish communities and not every workplace in the US is completely bleak. Some companies are going beyond the Danish six-week vacation policy by offering unlimited paid time off, a relatively new incentive.
It is easy to see how the Danish are able to find contentment at work when their personal lives are rich and fulfilling. Finding a balance between work and time off is essential for overall happiness and fulfillment.