Let’s Take A Lesson From Denmark’s Work Life Balance

Ever have to leave a little early from work for a dentist appointment or to pick your kid up from school? All of us have had to do this at some point and have had that guilty feeling of leaving before the clock strikes five. Getting the feeling that everyone is judging you for leaving early even though you’ve finished your work for the day isn’t right, but that’s how our American work culture works. This can be especially true in the startup and tech culture where long hours are a given.

Denmark is ranked first in happiest countries and tops off the list of work life balance. Danes are encouraged to enjoy life and see work as a part rather than a means of life. Taking a bike ride with your family is just as important as reaching the next milestone at work. Here’s a few things about the Danish work life we can learn from.

Money Doesn’t Rule

Here and in many other countries we focus on the next higher paying job to support our family, buy a house, and that shiny new car. Nothing is wrong with these goals at all but the stress of attaining that promotion or a raise can age an individual. Reaching a high income simply isn’t as important in Denmark. The average income of a Danish household is about $3,000 less than the OECD average. That doesn’t mean that their quality of life is any less. Instead of saving to buy a big house, many Danes choose to spend their earnings socializing and spending time with loved ones.

There is one big trade-off and it’s that taxes are extremely high. But it seems to be tolerable because the money goes to state welfare and health care, something they put a high value on so all is well.

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Family Comes First

Employees are more than encouraged to spend time with their families. Only 2% of people spend long hours of overtime at work compared to the OECD average of 13%. Parents are able to get up to 52 weeks of maternity leave (combined) AND no upper management guilt for taking care of your newborn! Picking your kids up from school is also not an issue at work. Everyone understands the family priority so if you have to leave work early, no one bats an eye.

Extending out to the social sphere as a whole, the Danes are really there for each other. 96% of Danes believe they have someone to rely on in times of need which is much higher compared to the OECD average of 88%.

The Balance

Danish work life isn’t bound to an eight hour work day five days a week. Instead of time driven, they focus on progress which is why they are such a hardworking country. If you’ve got all of your work done for the day, you’re welcome to take an early day off instead of twiddling your thumbs at your desk till the clock hits five. This one factor increases productivity and stream of workflow. Managers are seen more as team leaders to speak freely to and bounce ideas off of. There’s no apparent hierarchy so everyone’s thoughts are genuinely considered and team members feel valued and empowered.

The Danish life choices reflect their attitudes. Income ranks one of the lowest in priorities where life satisfaction, health, and education are the highest respectively. Knowing this, money isn’t what motivates Danes, it’s the content of the matter at work that gives them the satisfaction. This translates to American work life as well. People want to be doing projects they have an interest in and if they get the chance to it’s just a given that they’re going to work harder.

The secret sauce to the Danish work is a high degree of flexibility and a great work life balance. People can come in whenever they please but lunch is served autonomously to promote interaction. No one is shamed for moving on from their work day!

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Rest And Relaxation

Leisurely activities ease the mind and reduce stress. Maybe that’s why Danes have such great health! People of Denmark are given a minimum of 5 weeks PTO and are encouraged to use it. I know I’ve heard it plenty of times among friends that they’re scared to ask for time off or probably won’t get approved.

Everyone gets to enjoy some vacation time and that goes from the CEO to the janitor. All roles are respected just the same and these values are also instilled in the children so the cycle continues.

If you’re a business owner looking to increase your productivity there are a couple things in this post that can be implemented. Being humble and working hard seems to be doing wonders over there!

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