What Scandinavia can teach us about work culture

Opinion by Callum McPhillips

The Scandinavian work model places an emphasis on happiness and employee satisfaction. This, in turn, has seen high levels of productivity and employee retention.

In a study by Expert Market, the UK came 16th among the most productive countries. Denmark and Norway were both in the top 10, despite having shorter working hours.

In a number of Scandinavian corporations, every individual, from managers to cleaning staff, is shown appreciation and respect. It is also common for small achievements in Scandinavian workplaces to be celebrated, to improve morale and keep momentum.

This is a model many UK businesses, big and small, should follow. It’s not uncommon for UK workers to experience plenty of benefits, whether remote working or performance bonuses. These incentives may provide workers with a reason to stay longer. But, if businesses were to improve work culture and the respect they pay workers, employees may not need benefits to convince them to stay.

A DeLoitte study predicted that by 2020, 35 per cent of the global workforce would be Millennials. Rather than chasing pay packets, a high number of this generation is interested in job satisfaction, development and a work-life balance.

A Gallup workplace survey reported that “six in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities” and “millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace”. The easy conclusion to draw from this report is that they are unloyal and unwilling to work for development opportunities and would instead rather search elsewhere.

But perhaps it is the traditional business model which is flawed. Simply looking at the productivity levels is countries such as Norway, despite working on average 250 fewer hours per year, is enough to raise doubts over current UK business Culture. Here are a few ways UK business’ could learn from the Scandinavian work culture.

Scandinavian countries value their personal time and believe it should be spent relaxing with family and friends.

Work being left at the office means employees can switch off whilst at home, enabling them a break to recharge. Having time completely away from work means they can return refreshed and willing to work again.

The introduction of shorter working weeks demonstrates Scandanavian countries’ belief in this notion. Businesses in countries such as Norway and Denmark enable their employees to work fewer hours and even four-day weeks, without reducing wages to ensure productivity and motivation will not drop. In fact, it has done the opposite.

The UK has a higher turnover of staff than Scandinavian countries. Employees can leave a company for a number of reasons. In the UK however, a major reason is due to feeling underappreciated. This is especially true of younger generations.

High employee retention in Scandinavian countries could be attributed to employees being treated as people, not simply workers. ‘Jantelov’ is a Scandinavian term which represents equality within a community, where no member is better than another. The idea is to encourage others, rather than lower yourself.

There is a more apparent level of hierarchy within UK business models, which employees in higher positions may use to assert their power over younger employees, rather than using their experience and expertise to teach and nurture.

Replacing young, unsatisfied employees with somebody more experienced is fine for short-term gain. In terms of long-term growth, however, this model is unsustainable. Utilising the Jantelov ideology and investing time and energy into the development of employees will help them feel appreciated, as well as eager to continue to grow with the company.

Callum McPhillips is a content writer for Stockport-based  Loxit Limited, who specialise in the manufacture and distribution of workspace furniture integrated with technology