Hygge and Omtanke: the feel-good factor in Scandinavian business
In Denmark, this well-being is generally referred to as “hygge” (which is actually a Norwegian word pronounced as “hugge”). This refers to a general need for satisfaction, friendship and coziness. People are nice to each other, but also to themselves. At home, hygge means spending time alone at home or together with friends in a pleasant atmosphere. Think of a fireplace, candlelight, a cup of tea and many soft sofa cushions. However, the Danes insist that hygge is not just about coziness, but above all about pure spiritual well-being.
Because of this, hygge is always present in the world of work as well. Employers usually offer a wide range of services to help their employees achieve a good work-life balance: from fitness studio subscriptions, flexible working hours and joint leisure activities to amenities such as lounges or cell phones and laptops for family-friendly home office hours. Both the work-life balance of the individual and a very pleasant working atmosphere for everyone are given the highest priority in Danish – as well as Swedish and Norwegian – companies.
In Denmark, you work to live. Not the other way around. It is therefore a matter of course to leave a meeting early in order to pick up the children from school. And the consensus culture is to thank for the fact that all employees are always asked and involved in the decision-making process – until harmonious agreement is reached. The boss is therefore never the sole decision maker but is responsible for ensuring the well-being of his employees and creating a positive atmosphere in the team. Rarely will managers critically review the performance of their teams or even review the interim results of individual employees. It would make everyone uncomfortable! In Denmark, employee leadership is understood differently.
What’s hygge for the Danes is omtanke for the Swedes. It means that you think about how you can do something good for others. Harmonious coexistence is the most important aspect of Swedish culture. It is important to ensure that everyone feels at home everywhere and at all times. Sweden therefore generally appears relaxed in working life. People work calmly, negotiate calmly and speak calmly.
It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that no one is disadvantaged. Fairness is of paramount importance. Moreover, Omtanke is also a management matter. One of the main tasks of a team leader is to ensure that all employees are treated fairly, that there are good working conditions, a harmonious working atmosphere and even a nice room for shared coffee breaks. The general omtanke in the company is also responsible for fair dealings with suppliers and active environmental protection.
Don’t think that you are any better than others
The Scandinavian feel-good culture for everyone is ultimately also based on the principle that all people are equal. This results in a certain humility. Don’t think you’re any better than others! This central idea is based on the law of Jante (a fixed concept taken from the socio-critical novel “A refugee crosses his trail” by the Danish author Aksel Sandermose): No one should feel smarter, more successful or more important than anyone else and set themselves apart accordingly. That is why Swedes, Danes and Norwegians always make sure that these high moral standards are met. The idea of equality is actively practiced; everyone should feel equally good – even in business!
Author: Katrin Koll Prakoonwit – Before becoming an independent journalist, Katrin Koll Prakoonwit wrote country analyses for the FAZ. Today she works for publications of various consultancies and publishers. The author lives in Reading, Berkshire, near London.
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