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What Nordic culture teaches us about happiness at work

A recent survey by Indeed revealed that more than a third of UK workers are unhappy in their jobs. This doesn’t sound like the much-heralded future of work.

So, who can organisations in the UK learn from when developing their employee wellbeing strategies? One place they might find an answer is in Finland, awarded the title of 'happiest country in the world', by the United Nations for the fifth time in succession in 2022.

Finland, and the Nordic region in general, look at life in a different way to the UK, which is reflected in overall levels of happiness, and importantly, a successful work culture.

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Finland’s culture cascades through its working practices rather than the other way round, and naturally this begins early in life. One of the things Finnish children learn in school is that excellence is achieved by fostering a spirit of community and equality.

This is in sharp contrast to the educational reform strategies we see in the UK, where the emphasis is put on testing, measuring performance and even paying teachers based on exam result performance. This ‘hard’ approach is understandable and easy to reason, but it doesn’t always achieve its intended results and creates winners and losers.

To create a better world of work, we need to grow both as individuals and collectively as a group of people. We have to encourage communities within the workplace, rather than set individuals, teams and departments against each other.

Companies work best, when they give employees the means and the opportunities to develop their skill sets and work together to achieve targets. The most important goals of any company should be expanding opportunities and providing structured opportunities to employees to enhance their careers.

In tandem with harmonising the goals of an organisation with its employees, Nordic firms strive to put in place a minimal hierarchy. When an employee’s goal is to obtain a certain job title, rather than master a skill, or achieve a goal, then something is amiss. Keeping power flat and low helps teams develop openness and transparency in their communications, ensuring that wellbeing and employee satisfaction remain a focus of all activities.


Welcoming new employees with open arms

For Nordic people, hospitality plays a special part in life. It is entirely unthinkable not to have food and drink in the house in case a guest appears. Likewise, during onboarding it’s great to offer gifts. Little things like this help to encourage new employees to explore the company’s culture.

On their first day, they should also get access to their HR account, where they can begin exploring the opportunities for them to learn and develop their skill sets, as well as meet their new team virtually. 

Once settled into the company, employees should appreciate that work is work and play is play. But at the same time, work must be fun, otherwise employees will lose their engagement and performance will fall as a result.

This fun world we are aiming for is one where people can bring their most motivated, creative, innovative and free-thinking selves to their jobs in the knowledge that they are trusted and supported by those around them. And this is the kind of working environment we should foster in order to build and maintain a successful company.

There’s no doubt that our workplace culture is very interconnected to the world around us, so sometimes we have to work extra hard to make our environment a special one. We need to ensure that it's welcoming and allows people focus on the bright side of things. Despite what’s happening outside the front door, on the inside we should try to maintain a friendly atmosphere where are teams can collaborate and create.

Wai-Bin Lai is country director UK at Sympa