If you type “happy at work” into Google, you’ll get roughly 32 million results. Why? Because over half of all Americans are unhappy at their jobs. Alexander Kjerulf, CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) has made finding happiness at work his life’s mission. He lives in Denmark but spends lots of his time traveling through the U.S. and Europe which gives him an interesting perspective on why Americans are so unhappy at work.
In a recent editorial, Kjerulf says this about workers in America:
“You get paid to do your job, not to like it,” seems to be the attitude of most US managers and workplaces. What’s worse, American employees seem to be willing participants in this arrangement. When I ask Americans what makes them happy at work, they rarely talk about the work itself – many tend to see it as a means to an end, rather than as something to enjoy.
The result is that US workplaces are dominated by status-seeking career climbers, where the paycheck is the only motivator, where employee turnover is shockingly high, where bad management is never challenged, where burnout and cynicism are the order of the day, and only Dilbert comic strips provide relief.”
I’ve worked in the environment described above. It left me depressed, drained and 10 lbs heavier. It also motivated me to search for answers. Why do people hate their jobs? And why do they continue to stay? I knew that there had to be something better out there, a place where employers are good to their workers and everyone is happy and productive all the time.
The name of that place is Denmark.
According to Kjerulf,
“In Denmark, employees fully expect to like their jobs. Few Danes put up with bad management, stress, overwork, bullying, or anything else that makes us unhappy at work. What’s more, in Scandinavia in general, companies have a genuine commitment to their employees’ well-being.
This is why Scandinavians have the world’s highest job satisfaction ratings – and one of the reasons why the Scandinavian nations regularly top the lists of the world’s happiest countries, both in life and at work…The equation isn’t complicated: Workers who love their jobs = more efficiency and innovation = more money.”
What is it exactly about Scandinavian countries that allow them to be so much happier at work? Are they born with the courage to stand up to bad bosses? Is there something in the water that makes them have a more positive attitude than Americans? The answer may lie in the differences in government and social policy between the U.S. and Scandinavia.
Healthy People Make Happy Employees
According to the Danish Ministry of the Interior and Health, 85% of a Danish citizen’s health care costs are paid by taxes. In contrast, the majority of American health care costs, for those lucky enough to have health insurance in the first place, are paid for by the individual’s employer. The link between employment and health insurance put Americans in a tough position. Stay in a job they hate and have access to affordable and quality medical care for themselves and their family, or pursue a more fulfilling job and risk becoming bankrupt when serious illness strikes. Over 50% of bankruptcies in the United States are at least partly a result of medical expenses.
By making the decision to separate health from business, the Danish government effectively allows their citizens more opportunities to change jobs without fear, discover their true talents and reach their full potential. The country sees benefits in increased productivity and economic prosperity. Is it no wonder then that the unemployment rate in Scandinavia is less than 1%?
A Ray of Hope
Until the United States reforms its health care system and other social policies such as parental leave, most American workers fight an uphill battle to discover happiness at work. But it can be done. Corporations such as Google or Best Buy are re-imaging the way Americans do business. Flexible hours, generous benefits, putting workers first—these are all characteristics of the new American workplace.
Happiness is slowly finding its way back into American offices, you might just have to look a little harder, negotiate a little better and spend some time defining your own “happy at work” place in order to find it.