Cheerio, elevenses and stiff upper lip are examples of highly British phrases that have no direct Danish equivalent.
But here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglæde.
I know that to most English-speakers this looks like a random jumble of letters you’d get if you tossed a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor, but there is meaning behind it.
Arbejde means work and glæde means happiness, so arbejdsglæde is happiness at work. This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but not in any other language on the planet. I’ve checked!
For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead have Karoshi. Which means “Death from overwork.”
And this is no coincidence; there is a word for it in Danish because Danish workplaces have a long-standing tradition of wanting to make their employees happy. To most Danes, a job isn’t just a way to get paid – we fully expect to enjoy ourselves at work.
I’ve recently been doing some work for Hewlett-Packard in England, helping them promote their mobile products (laptops and mobile phones). The idea is that mobile technology gives employees flexiblity at work and flexibility makes us happy.
This means I’ve been talk to a lot of Brits and appearing in the British media, and I think I can safely say, that the British approach to work is quite different than the Scandinavian one.
Few people in Britain seem to expect to be happy at work. Their focus seems to be on putting in the hours and getting paid. To most Britons, a job is just a job – and work is not compatible with any notions of enjoyment or happiness.
One BBC radio interviewer even asked me if it wasn’t fine to be miserable, if being miserable makes you happy.
No. No, no, no!
Being miserable at work, or even just being sort of OK but not really at work is no longer enough, for three very specific reasons.
First reason: time. We spend more of our waking hours at work than on anything else. We spend more time at work than with our friends, families and children combined. If you’re unhappy at work, you’ll spend a large part of your life being miserable.
Second reason: health. Hating your job can make you sick. Worst case, it can kill you. Studies show that people who hate theirn jobs run a much higher risk of contracting serious diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Third reason: money! Happy companies make more money, because their employees are more creative, productive, service-minded and innovative.
The results of these two different attitudes is clear: While the Danes have the highest levels of happiness at work, Brits are… not happy. Recent studies have shown that up to a third of all Brits actively dislike work, while still more neither like it nor loathe it.
Interestingly, you might think that since Danes like their jobs so much, they’d be working more hours. You’d be wrong. Britons are the workaholics of Europe putting in more hours per worker than even those industrious Germans.
And seeing as Brits work so hard, you’d think they’d get more work done than those annoyingly cheerful Danes. You’d be wrong again. Worker productivity is in fact higher in Denmark and Denmark has the world’s best business climate according to the Economist.
So here’s my challenge to British companies, managers and employees everywhere: Put happiness at work first. Realize once and for all that life’s too short to spend so many hours in jobs that are at best tolerable and at worst hell on earth.
In short – let’s see some more arbejdsglæde in Britain.