Top 5 ways to make your HR 'Hygge'


Having recently written a blog about the UK’s graduates going to Denmark, I found myself reading a great book on the "Danish Art of Living Well” – The 'Book of Hygge'.

Hygge translates as a feeling of contentment – with oneself, others and one's surroundings. Reading the section of the book on ‘professional environments’ (the world of work), it is no surprise that, according to a recent CPHPost article, Danish companies are among the top places in Europe to work.

The Book of Hygge cites “open communication, collaboration and flat hierarchy” as key elements of Danish working culture. Work-life balance is also mentioned, as is “working together as a team” to provide a sense of belonging.

A warning sits alongside these ideals:

“If we become too busy, our time cramped with many activities, hygge disappears”.

The message is clear – we need to revisit the way that the typical UK workplace operates to compete with native competitors, and to nurture our talent - both home-grown and from overseas.

So what do we need to focus on?

1)      Open communication

In his article, 'Why are Danish companies better places to work?', Mike Hohnen explains a different relationship between employees and management, with direct and informal communications sitting at the heart of processes. Mike uses the example of supermarket group Irma, where the CEO shares messages with business staff via a weblog.

Dynamic and ambitious companies like Buffer have blown this idea of transparency apart even further, sharing information from all business areas, even extending to the sharing of salaries.

2)      Organisation structure / hierarchy

An HR Magazine article published in 2014 spoke of the way in which ‘Generation Y’ was forcing a more democratised workplace. Whilst the majority of organisations are still structured around a hierarchy, the democratised workplace has arguably taken at least a slight hold on the way that some companies operate – in many cases, more flexible working, virtual teams and more digital offices have allowed for a departure from the more traditional hierarchical approach to work.

Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk is one of the biggest companies in Denmark. A 2014 article by InsideHR was written following an interview with Novo Nordisk’s Head of HR, who spoke of the “very flat” organisation structure. With such a flat structure, employees have a direct link to their Managing Director and can share / communicate information and ideas throughout the organisation.

3)      Collaboration

On the theme of sharing and communicating ideas, a collaborative work environment promotes the very 'hygger' concept of “working together as a team” to provide a sense of belonging. Collaboration can be supported in many ways, including office design and technical tools [social networks like Yammer, etc.]

The HR strategy at Danish company Shoenen Torfs uses the tradition of a family-run company where people look after each other as the starting point for how its workforce communicates and collaborates. It is HR's responsibility to safeguard this family-oriented communication approach. At Shoenen Torfs, it is made clear that employees and the employer are partners delivering added value to each other - success is a collaborative effort.

In the UK, Ella's Kitchen take a similar approach to expectations set for the workforce, encouraging employees to be 'creative, innovative and childlike'. When employees are asked to collaborate to achieve shared goals around a clear vision, in my view it doesn't get more 'hygge'!

4)      Engagement / belonging

 In a more democratic workplace, with a flatter hierarchy and more niche job roles, individuals are more likely to volunteer for work to which they think they can add value. The result is that individuals play to their core strengths, rather than stretching themselves too thinly or conforming to prescribed roles that may not maximise their potential.

Still, it is important to have processes in place to track these contributions so that individual and team successes can be recognised and rewarded. No one is likely to be happy in an environment in which credit is not given where it's due.

Employee engagement is rooted in peoples’ desire to attribute value to the work that they do in working towards their own objectives, and those of the company they work for – participation in the achievement of a ‘shared vision’. Everything about this statement screams ‘hygge’!

Novo Nordisk offer ‘life-changing’ careers, directly linking employees’ career paths with the result of their products. Furthermore, in order to ensure that Novo Nordisk actually recruit the right people with the right values in the first place, they are asked for their top three engagement drivers during the recruitment process – thorough alignment between company, employees and end customers. A sense of engagement and belonging is ingrained.

 5)      No hygge, no talent

Many Danish companies follow typical standard talent management practices - for example, at one of the largest companies in Denmark, customer-driven financial mutual Nykredit, individual goals are set for employees, performance-based development plans are put in to place, and employees are well trained.

In my view, 'hygge' within the Danish world of work is ingrained in Denmark's treatment of the work/life balance:

"The Danish model gives you the opportunity to pursue a career without compromising your family life." 

The ‘flexicurity model’ 'a welfare state model that combines a flexible labour market with social security for all workers' - ensures a high standard of work and living, which is typically followed through by employers.

It seems safe to conclude that, in Denmark, work/life balance is woven in to the cultural fabric. In my view, in the UK, this only seems to happen at individual company-level. But that shouldn't mean that it can't happen! Any HR team looking to improve employees' contentment, engagement and sense of belonging through the realisation of more open communications and collaboration, a flatter hierarchy and other mechanisms for attracting and keeping talent could do far worse than applying some principles of hygge to their strategy.