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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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Workplace hygge: how to embrace it


The Danish art of Hygge has become the latest buzz word in wellbeing. Health and fitness magazines are bursting with stories on how Hygge – pronounced ‘Hooga’ can revitalise your mind and body whilst the world of fashion and interiors is full of features on how to embrace Hygge-style. So, what is Hygge? And, can it also improve our wellbeing at work? Here Gary Cattermole, Director of award-winning employee engagement and employee research provider, The Survey Initiative, explains how corporates can embrace Hygge into the workplace…

In an ever-changing world where employees are being urged to meet sales targets, produce reports to deadline and up productivity rates, it may seem surprising that Hygge should have an essential seat at the boardroom table.

But in my view Hygge should be firmly on the board’s agenda to help organisations create better workplaces and stronger cultures.

What is Hygge?

Hygge is a hard one to define, it’s more of a feeling than a ‘thing’.

Outside of office hours it could entail candles, returning from long walks with friends wearing woolly jumpers to a hot chocolate around an open fire. As I say it’s a hard one to define, but one thing is for sure the world’s happiest country, Denmark, are passionate advocates for Hygge – infact Danish doctors prescribe ‘tea and hygge’ to cure the cold and flu!

I’m a firm believer in employee engagement, and although I would be the first to agree engagement isn’t just about happy employees, we also have to be mindful that if employees were all miserable they wouldn’t be very productive – so there’s lessons to be learned. 

Design and lighting

Creating the ideal environment for staff to feel secure, productive and creative is ideal Hygge.

If your health and safety team will allow, candles can offer the perfect ambient lighting for some tasks. Nobody enjoys being under a fluorescent strip of light everyday, so consider how the lighting in your office can improve the look and feel for your employees.

Design is also paramount. The Danes have a love of wood and for them it feels very homely, so if possible incorporate this into your workplace design.

Consider alternatives to rows of computers and seats; mix it up a little and create more ‘community’ based seating plans where managers are mixed within the team. Separate offices or glass partitions to demarcate position or rank is the antithesis of Hygge. 

Create more ‘homely’ areas with sofas and communal seating for tasks that can be shared within the team, such as meetings, brainstorming etc.

Hot desking is a real ‘no-no’, however if you need to incorporate this into your working practises encourage staff to help design the hot desks, so they could sit in differently designed areas depending on their mood.

Also encourage people to bring in their own mugs, pictures to create their own area to help them feel more happy and comfortable in their working area.

Why we love the smart casual…

When it comes to design, we’re not just talking interiors.

Uniforms are not Hygge, they don’t allow the individual to be themselves, or necessarily feel comfortable. Dress down days are very Hygge, in fact the smart casual dress code is bang on.

Hygge: culture of togetherness

Research has proven that an important ingredient to happiness is being with other people.

Camaraderie in the workplace is key, so create opportunities to bring people together and build in as much team building as you can.

Also, consider freelancers and home workers too – think about whether they may enjoy working from home, but may be a little lonely?

Try video skyping instead of email and telephone contact at least once a day, but physical contact is best, so invite them into the offices at least once a month to share an update meeting, or for a team lunch.  

Hygge: it’s a frame of mind…

Research has proven that people who are self-critical tend to have lower mental health and lower life satisfaction levels.

We all know we need to reflect on our skillset and strive to improve, but no-one benefits from dwelling too long on the negative. Being content with your life and your role within an organisation is of fundamental importance and it’s down to your line manager to ensure you feel positive. 

We also know what a drain on the office an eternal pessimist can be on the mood of an office – it’s like a bad apple and the negativity can spread like wildfire, pulling productivity levels down in its path.

All employees’ wellbeing is vital to ensure Hygge can thrive in the workplace.

Hygge: lunchtime

We’re humans, we’re not robots, so we need a break. If your manager scowls at your empty desk between 1-2pm he/she should take a closer look in the mirror, as it’s his/her management style that’s at fault.

If you take a break you’re more productive for the rest of the day, so it’s a false economy sitting at your desk hoping to win brownie points from your boss.

Here bosses need to look at more of the process and results of what gets done by an individual during a working day rather than how many hours it took an individual to complete a task.

Lunch breaks are also ideal for getting people together, enjoying food, discussing issues of the day with colleagues, which all helps to build a better working environment.

Hygge at home: happier in the workplace

If staff and their families are happy at home then they are much more likely to be happy in the workplace. We’re not suggesting you ram Hygge down their necks, but if you are embracing Hygge in the workplace, you can discuss what Hygge may look like in the home too.

It’s up to your employees to then find out more and see if that’s something they may like to introduce at home.

Hygge treats

Not only are the Danes the happiest nation they’re also one of the biggest consumers of sugar and sweet treats! You don’t hear people often saying 'add a little sugar into your lives,' but offering doughnuts or Danish pastries once a week can give a lift to everyone in the office. 

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Gary Cattermole


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