Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of UK companies employed an on-site workforce to conduct the day-to-day running of their business, with only 27% of employees having worked from home at some point in 2019, on average.
It’s a well-known fact that workplace culture in Scandinavian countries is distinctly different to many other western countries.
While every business is unique, many firms place value in upon regular hours and smartly dressed employees; rather than, for example, a balanced workday and comfortable surroundings.
In Scandinavia, however, worker satisfaction is given greater priority. Emphasis is placed upon collaboration and equality, in terms of both respect and financial remuneration.
Some of the provisions made by Scandinavian employers are impractical, or impossible to initiate without systemic change. However, others simply involve a change in attitude and behaviour.
This article considers three common causes of worker dissatisfaction and explores how Scandinavian work habits could address these issues.
Job InsecurityWhile willpower alone is rarely enough to protect people’s jobs when funding is at stake or an organisation is being restructured, transparency can make a significant difference to whether employees feel safe.
British researcher Sarah Tottle claims that a culture of insecurity at work, driven by the prioritisation of stakeholders over staff, leads to higher rates of occupational stress and potential burnout, which trickles down an organisation from senior to junior staff members.
Part of this stress comes from a sense of instability, fuelled by an awareness of the current pressures on the global economy. Employees know that mass redundancies are being issued within sectors previously thought to be secure and worry that the same may happen to them.
A recent example is P&O Ferries in the UK, with the firm sacking almost 800 workers without notice or consultation.
To counterbalance a sense of insecurity amongst your workforce, try to foster openness and approachability between staff at all levels. If senior staff work separately, employees have no way of knowing what’s going on within the business and may be prone to speculation.
In Scandinavian countries, it’s common for employees and managers all to work in the same office, which not only fosters transparency but also boosts teamwork and cooperation.
Wellbeing ConcernsWith a surge in mental health diagnoses following the coronavirus pandemic, employees are more aware than ever before of their triggers and boundaries. Having been trapped indoors for months, returning to a stifling office environment can bring back recurring feelings of claustrophobia, apathy, or restlessness – which may result in altered productivity.
It goes without saying that an 8-hour working day spent looking at screens has never been healthy – but the pandemic has helped to bring to light some of the more serious repercussions of unvaried working conditions.
Reduced morale can lead to higher rates of sickness and absence, and a higher staff turnover, resulting in higher organisational costs.
In Sweden, employers promote staff wellbeing by minimising hours worked, relying instead upon higher productivity. This allows employees to enjoy more time outside, moving around – and surprisingly, it works from a psychological perspective because longer hours often result in a higher depletion of energy.
Similarly, Norway was the third most productive country in the world in 2020, despite Norwegians working the third shortest workweek among counties within the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).
In advising staff to disconnect from work entirely in their leisure hours, employers encourage a healthy work-life balance that demonstrates a respect for their staff’s personal life, recognising the importance having time to decompress and spend with family.
In a 2015 survey, one third of UK workers cited office politics as a major contributing factor to feelings of unhappiness in the workplace. Today, uncomfortable workplace dynamics still prevail within certain sectors - and are even encouraged as a means of ‘weeding out’ less tolerant staff.
Far from toughening up recruits, however, a workplace culture of bullying and bureaucracy causes higher levels of stress and absenteeism, denting productivity and costing the organisation.
In Scandinavian countries, companies pride themselves on providing a workplace free from harassment and power struggles. A Janteloven mentality is advocated, in which every member of staff is treated as an equal worthy of respect.
An extension of this, employers are encouraged to recognise each employee’s individual potential. This includes being sensitive to staffs’ needs, allowing them to work in a manner that suits them – whether that be from home, in the hubbub of the office or in a quiet corner onsite.
Managers are also encouraged to build rapport amongst their team, promoting rest and healthy working hours while providing a listening ear should their employees have any concerns.
In summary, Scandinavian work habits have a lot to teach us about fostering a harmonious workplace environment and maximising employee productivity.
Aside from generating happier employees, many of the practices encouraged in Sweden and Norway make practical sense – flexible working arrangements mean smaller overhead costs for businesses, while open communication allows for greater efficiency and understanding.
It’s well worth exploring whether adopting some Scandinavian work habits could improve your business.
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