Ranked fourth in the world for productivity, according to the OECD, the Danes do things differently. The UK, by comparison is ranked only 15th in the world for productivity and we wanted to take a look at why this is, and what lessons HR teams can learn from our Nordic neighbours.  

Denmark has an openness that extends to all corners of work culture, and society. The country is known for encouraging a relaxed work-life balance, promoting the value of collective responsibility, and supporting employee wellbeing.  

As a business that works across the UK and Denmark, we are very aware of differences in approaches to working life. So, what can UK HR teams learn from the Danish way of life? 

Positive work-life balance  

In Denmark, having enough leisure and family time is considered core to living a good life. Only 2% of Danish employees regularly work very long hours. When compared to 7% of the UK’s workers regularly working significant overtime, we clearly have a lot to learn about a sustainable work-life balance.  

The Danes spend around two-thirds of their day (16 hours) eating, sleeping and indulging in leisurely pursuits. At only 33 hours a week, the average Danish workweek is tied for first place with Norway as the shortest in the world, while British employees work an average of 37.2 hours each week. 

Holiday time is also important. Every worker in Denmark is entitled to a minimum of five weeks of paid leave plus nine paid public holidays, totalling 33.9 days. Whereas, UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday – for full-time workers this amounts to 28 days. The UK also has an average of nine bank holidays per year, but these are not guaranteed days off and often overlap with the statutory 28 days of leave.  

In the UK, many companies have been embracing more annual leave in recent years, with some opting for an unlimited leave scheme. But this is not without its limitations. Unlimited leave often leads to employees taking less than 28 days off work.  

Overall wellness is a priority  

Wellness is very much the focus of looking after employees in Denmark. Healthcare in Denmark is universal, free at the point of use, and of a high quality.  

In recent years, health coaching has taken centre stage when it comes to improving employees’ health. Employee health coaching generates long-lasting lifestyle changes and positive health outcomes. And it does all this on an individual’s own device, at a time of their choosing, making it a convenient and scalable solution.  

Danish health insurance firm, Dansk Sundhedssikring, provides a health coaching programme to its corporate customers. Employees receive a personal digital health coach, to offer advice and guidance towards individual health goals through video and text. Employees can also keep track of multiple variants like mood, sleep, activity, diet and medication. Wellbeing support in this way enables a more productive, happier team with fewer sick days.   

Evidence shows strong returns on investment for health coaching. Some widely reported benefits include greater mental clarity, alertness, energy, and more engagement. It is a win-win for employer and employee. By taking this overall approach to staff wellbeing, HR teams in the UK can push for a more engaged and loyal workforce, and help their companies stand out from the crowd with a meaningful wellness package.  

Embracing collective responsibility  

The Danish workforce supports collective organisations. More than 67% of people are members of trade unions. This compares to a UK equivalent of 23.5% in 2019. 

A focus on collective ideals and values means that workers are more involved in designing employment packages that work for them. Through collective change, Denmark has brought about a model of flexibility and a world leading work-life balance, which in turn is met with higher national productivity.  

If HR embraced this model of collective responsibility, they would perhaps be able to unify more easily and bring about democratic change.  

There’s no one size fits all  

HR and employee benefits shouldn’t be a race to offer the most holiday or most expensive healthcare, each new scheme needs to be carefully thought out, implemented and effectively communicated to staff so people can benefit from the programmes in place.  

While there is much to learn from other countries, it’s down to each HR team to determine the right policies for their organisations. What we do know, is that looking after employees’ wellbeing has tangible business benefits. For example, 90% of manufacturers who invest in employee wellbeing and flexible working have seen a corresponding increase in workforce productivity and staff relation.  

By looking after employees, they will look after your business.  

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