Secrets from the World’s Happiest Workplace

Icelanders are more than twice as happy as Americans. Here's what your business can learn from them.

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It’s a well-known fact that happy workers are more productive than miserable ones. Unfortunately, far from being happy, many workers (especially in the U.S.) are stressed to the breaking point.

How can managers create a work environment that generates happier (and therefore more productive) workers? One answer is to imitate Iceland.

Why Iceland? Turns out that Iceland is one of the happiest countries on earth. Almost three-quarters of Icelanders consider themselves “content,” as opposed to only a third of people living in North America.

And that’s pretty impressive when you consider that Iceland has some of the worst weather on the planet, is dark all day for half the year, has more-than-occasional volcanic eruptions, and experienced a financial meltdown far worse than the one in the U.S.

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With that in mind, here are four tips:

1. Create a Community

In U.S. businesses, success is frequently seen as a purely individual achievement, often at the expense of others. In Iceland, however, conditions are so challenging that there’s no surviving (much less thriving) without the help of those around you.

In Iceland, sure, you can achieve success, but only if you’re part of something greater than your little selfish self. Communities, and goals that are mutual rather than individual, make people feel more connected and therefore more happy.

2. Encourage Broad Interests

In the U.S., it’s considered unprofessional even to have a hobby, much less multiple interests. (“What? You’ve time for that?”) In Iceland, people are proud to publicly play multiple roles and talents. The mayor of the capital city, Reykjavik, for instance, is also known as an actor, a comedian, and a rock musician.

Workers are happier when they can be who they really are, rather than pretending to be “all work.” Therefore, rather than looking to hire nose-to-the-grindstone workaholics, actively encourage employees to be themselves and try being who you really are.

3. Put Family First

Most U.S. businesses seem to actively hate families, seeing them as unwelcome distractions from the work at hand. Iceland, by contrast, is beyond family friendly. For example, companies provide nine months of maternity leave–for both fathers and mothers.

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Making certain that employees can focus on their families reduces stress and keeps workers on a more even keel. You may not be able to offer months of paid leave, but how about in-house day care? Or how about aiming for a more reasonable (and more productive) 40-hour workweek?

4. Provide Healthier Food

U.S. workers eat tons of sugary and fatty junk food, often because that’s all they have time to scarf down between meetings. In Iceland, they eat plenty of fresh-caught fish, as well lots of fruits and vegetables, greenhouse grown without pesticides.

Though you can’t be expected to single-handedly halt the U.S. culture’s mad rush into obesity, you can make it easier for workers to make better choices, by making healthy foods more readily available and having a long enough lunch break so that fast food is only an option rather than a necessity.

Geoffrey James writes the “Sales Source” column on Inc.com, the world’s most-visited sales-oriented blog. His newly published book is Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies From the World’s Top Sales Experts@Sales_Source

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62 comments
La-Dee-Dah
La-Dee-Dah

Iceland? Too doggone cold for me, but I'm sure we could use some of those principles here in the USA.

PaulBaribeau
PaulBaribeau

I

work for TribeHR, and we’ve blogged quite a bit about effective ways to keep

employees happy and productive.  For example, employees feel valued and

motivated when you take their opinions seriously. Foster an open-door

environment that encourages an honest exchange of ideas. If you want to read

the rest of the post, check it out here: http://blog.tribehr.com/bid/11....

aldohux_iv
aldohux_iv

Iceland actually said "NO" to the banks which while is corollary may not be so impossible as to think part of causation.

Scott Delinger
Scott Delinger

Your "well-known fact" is barely a thesis. I would say that productive employees are happier than unproductive employees. Concentrate on helping them be productive: provide bottom-line context to their work, eliminate unproductive meetings, run productive meetings with clear actions, provide cover from helicopter managers layers up the organization, provide the necessary tools, eliminate busy-work.

Daniel
Daniel

Geoffrey James  should educate him self on Norway, they have much better salaries and purchasing power than Icelanders, they have shorter work hours (family friendly), they  have longer maternity leave and higher salary when on leave + they have better weather (most of the time). I currently live in Iceland but have also lived and worked in Norway for 2 years so I know the facts. 

Danyz
Danyz

Here's a new theory on North American obesity: Fat is like an emotional air bag that cushions its owner from daily collisions with fellow human beings with a middle-finger-to-all-those-shyte-heads-out-there mentality. Rat race is too genteel a word to describe what this society has morphed into.

08repsolBlade
08repsolBlade

Democrats need not read this. Since you don't work. Unless walking to the mailbox to collect your welfare check counts.

Elín Esther Magnúsdóttir
Elín Esther Magnúsdóttir

1)  It's not entirely true that both parents get 9 months maternity/phaternity leave. The mother gets 60 days, the other parent 30 days and then they can divide 30 more days between them, however they like.

This sounds good, only downside is that the maximum amount you can get paid is lower than average pay. Now you might say "But surely, it's money you shouldn't get anyway"? But this is all paid with our taxes, so it's not as someone GIVES you this money. It's a part of the contract you enter with paying taxes in a welfare society.

The most amazing part of this is that you get the time off from your company (but they don't pay you during, it's the welfare system).

2) Even though the "legal" work-week is 40 hours, most Icelanders work closer to 50 hours/week in reality. Why? To afford the high cost of living in Iceland.

3) Iceland is often considered 2nd in row (after the US) in junk food consuming. We used to be quite healthy, for a short while, but today being healthy sometimes means going to the gym 7 days a week and eating bunch of protene shakes. 

It is sometimes said that Iceland is so healthy that we banned McDonalds. The truth is that during the economic crisis, McDonalds in Iceland couldn't afford being part of McDonalds. Instead, they gave it a new name and sell very similar junk food to all-to-happy Icelanders.

Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather live in Iceland than in an over-capitalistic state as the US, but the facts are not quite accurate.

itsasecret121
itsasecret121

Being happy and being content are two different things.  When your people are content, they stop striving for new and better ideas, things and processes. Why change anything if your content to be where and how your are.   America and Americans have always worked towards the betterment of all things which comes from their refusal to be content with the status quo.  Those who are striving for these better ideas and better products are rarely described as unhappy, not content I'll give you but never unhappy.   Making corporations and the 1% the scapegoat for all the ills in this country is shameful.  The good thing about a democratic society and a free enterprise system is that we the workers can make things change if enough of us are willing to stand up for it.

Guest
Guest

That's funny because I keep hearing people complaining about workers rights in Colorado. Getting fired for pregnancies, etc. with no legal recourse. No thanks.

R. G. Price
R. G. Price

Funny how "pro-family" Republicans are basically against all of these things and actively oppose any government efforts to encourage such conditions...

Vixxis
Vixxis

I worked for a U.S. (Pa. ) international, Samp;P 500 Energy Co. that made my life so stressfull that its is believed to have caused paralysis (Paraplegic T-6).  Then this wonderful company refused to allow me to return to my mid management job (MBA, CPA) after leaving a  six week rehab.  The Co. Dr. said they couldnt accomodate my excessive restrictions while my Dr. said I had no restrictions.  What a great company ... they think they are.  That was 10 years ago, almost to the day.  Try raising a young family while paralysed and on disabiltiy.  The Americans with Disability Act has NO teeth!

Vixxis
Vixxis

Double post deleted

jenndrop24
jenndrop24

When I flaunt my pantyhosed legs and feet at work it seems to make the men at work happy.

Robert Flanary
Robert Flanary

In Iceland there is not as much wealth disparity and workers make more.

Ilse Polanco
Ilse Polanco

" success is frequently seen as a

purely individual achievement, often at the expense of others"  It is

interesting that you interpret individualism as a mechanism of manipulation and

of victimization, when it is quite the opposite.  Collectivization of

failure is a more powerful cause of unhappiness, and that is what has happened

in the USA.  In a free society you can't survive

without creating value to others, and development is the result of

collaboration.  I think content is not a synonym for happiness, but

for conformity.

Adam Griffin
Adam Griffin

Come work in Denver/Boulder. You won't have any of the issues mentioned above. 

Kevin Giambrone
Kevin Giambrone

Great for Iceland but all that great work atmosphere has put them anywhere near walking on the moon or other great achievmenents.

ericspowell69
ericspowell69

Sounds like working at REI. The best place to work in America. We have a sense of community, the entire staff (especially management) encouraged broad interests, family is number one, get out be active, be healthy...true work life balance. They promote volunteering and getting out and "getting dirty" pitching in for the environment.....Plus the staff are all just great people....inside and out.

GuillaumeCR
GuillaumeCR

Isn't Iceland still recovering from an earth-shattering financial meltdown? I mean the global crisis is pretty bad, but Iceland imploded in a way that would make fukushima green with envy.

beertoast
beertoast

It's sad to see what has become of the American worker - not much more than a serf to the corporation. For a country that pay homage to "family values" it is the least family friendly nation.

HardWorkisHard
HardWorkisHard

Silly article by a silly guy. Who has the author worked for? Has he really been treated this way? Have any of the people posting really been treated this way? Most of his points are simply stereotypes made up by liberals to demonize business. No businesses then no jobs. And really..."Most businesses seem to actively hate families?". Most businesses are small businesses run by families who treat many of their employees like family.

Burning_Ice
Burning_Ice

You take a decidedly anti-American tone in your rather unscientific and biased analysis. And your sweeping generalities (i.e., "In the U.S., it’s considered unprofessional even to have a hobby. . .", and "Most U.S. businesses seem to actively hate families. . .") are just plain wrong. Besides, what makes other places more content isn't necessarily portable to other countries and cultures. Read up on your American and Icelandic history and you'll quickly see why it is fruitless to even compare the two wonderful countries in the way you do.

wowbax
wowbax

No disrespect to Iceland, which, I'm sure is as nice as they say it is. But wow, this article sure is down on American business. Trendy theme, but it won't hold water. You know, you can compliment something without insulting something else. It's called a compliment. 

leftieandproud
leftieandproud

Happiness?  Family first? Broad Interests?  Sounds anti-conservative.  Community?  Too close to communism.  No.  Conservative values are work your butt off for someone who thinks its a sin against the church to laugh, for a salary that won't buy health insurance let alone recreational fun, so that the big bosses in the gigantic corporate employer can receive a $100 million bonus every year.

Teddy Salad
Teddy Salad

Nice try.  Compare a country of 400M to Iceland?   Article did not mention the alcoholism figures that run rampant in Iceland.  Still a must-see, beatiful country.

Orange234
Orange234

"maternity leave–for... fathers"...so, Paternity leave? 

Tensor11
Tensor11

I spent two years in Iceland, as a US company rep in 89-91.  I now go back to visit at least every two years for about a month.  Last year, my wife and I went during November, for a change of pace and the three nights of aurora were the best part.  I can't recommend visiting Iceland highly enough. 

Thor Runolfsson
Thor Runolfsson

Great article, for the most part. It is NOT dark for half a year though. Its only dark for two months or so... See why us Icelanders are so happy, come visit.

 I finally went back home for the first time in 20+ years and now my wife and I want to move there. When we were there this past July the sun was out for 23 hours a day. Great photo opportunities all day and night (1830 pix in 10 days!!!)

Elaine Mays
Elaine Mays

That socialism, again making people happy. Like in Denmark, Sweden, Norway. Don't want American workers to be happy. they are slaves and the republicans want to keep it that way. 

vstillwell
vstillwell

Fat chance. Most American companies these days squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of workers and then kick them to the curb. Apparently, according to Republicans, American's workers have too many rights, and that's why our economy sucks. Never mind the fact that everything under the sun is made in China these days, and that China manipulates its currency which benefits the Walmarts and Bain Capitals of the world. 

08repsolBlade
08repsolBlade

Funny how the Democrats are all blithering morons...

Guest
Guest

That's funny because I've been hearing a lot of complaints from workers in Colorado lately. Getting fired for pregnancies and disabilities, etc. with no real legal recourse. No thanks. 

Elín Esther Magnúsdóttir
Elín Esther Magnúsdóttir

That is true, we've only ever had one astronaut:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... 

But keeping in mind that there are less than 350.000 of us (in the whole country), I suspect a space program would be kind of out of the question anyway.Or does it? How many US towns with under half a million inhabitants have their own space program? ;-)We have something I thing is even cooler, in this context:

Over 1% of the nation volunteers in highly trained search amp; rescue organization: http://www.icesar.com/category... 

canadarox
canadarox

How does walking on the moon affect the general work environment of American work force?  Was the morale and environment unhealthy, and then WHAM, we landed on the moon.  Suddenly companies realized we need to provide better working environments.

I'm not here to speak ill of the American work environment, and I don't think the article was well written.  It should have more than just Iceland as the benchmark.  For example, in France you work a 35 hour week (considered full-time) and you start with a minimum 5 weeks holidays each year.

This is not just about American companies making the work environment and the work/life balance challenging.  American companies are allowed to be this way because Washington does not look out for the workers, they look out for big business. 

I remember watching the Sicko documentary by Michael Moore, and in the film, GWB was talking to a lady about what she does to make ends meet.  She said that she has 5 part-times jobs.  GWB congratulated her and said that she represents the true American spirit.  What a joke.  If you need to work 5 part-time jobs just to make ends meet, there is something wrong with the economy and the government that permits it to foster such an environment.

America is probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but considering its healthcare issues and a government that permits the economy to keep workers running on the hamster wheel non-stop to make a go of it, I would opt for Iceland in a heartbeat.

DP44022
DP44022

 That's true. But, the story was about the general populations happiness.  And even though we've walked on the moon it doesn't seem to have made the US population any more happy.  Proud yes, happy no.

ES71
ES71

Who cares if you personnally are happy. It is time to lose this false patriotism - I am miserable but my country is #1! Which is not even true anyway. And russians put the man in space first, so I am not sure what the big deal about the moon is anyway,

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy

Yet somehow they are more complacent with life than we are here.

ES71
ES71

It is true that american business hates families - no sick leave for kids, no maternity leave , measly vacation time  while there is a lot of lip service  about "family values" and "work-life" balance.

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy

You aren't Anti-American right now?  Is your life so great that you actively troll a legitimate  article on why MOST of Americans today are unhappy with the cards they are continuously being dealt, with no light at the end of that tunnel?  I believe we all want change, and douche bags like you are helping to keep us down, with your trivial thought processes and child like responses.

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy

You believe American businesses are doing what is in YOUR best interests?  Get a clue...

DP44022
DP44022

 Yeah, the average consumption of alcohol in the US is 9.44 liters per person and it's 6.31 liters per person in Iceland.  Good call.

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy

Probably another factor to why they are so content with life there.

TWaileka
TWaileka

 You were joking, right? Although your picture on fb looks like a simpleton's so maybe not. Sweden: highest suicide rate in the world; Norway: HUGE problems with muslim 'refugees' these days; Denmark: everyone is hobbled by their extremely high tax rates.... 'american workers'?? are 'slaves'??? Then explain why my companies (3) have 0.001 attrition rate. They are not slaves. I built MY businesses on the basis of sharing the profits with the employees, for one thing. I EXPECT my employees to have outside interests, it is a LIE that all americans eat too much sugary foods, oh suuuuuure the illegals and the welfare bums probably do, but they don't work for ME. Socialism and communism do NOT work, EVER. Well I think you ARE a simpleton after all.

 Diego Prada
Diego Prada

But more importantly, Americans who get laid off from these

low-skill jobs, can only find employment if they can perform tasks that require

higher skills, so they have to get trained/educated. That’s what Jagdish

Bhagwati calls ‘race to the top’. Unemployment rates in the US are not high,

particularly when compared to other developed economies, which means people do

find employment in jobs that require higher skills, which means standards of

living are getting better in the US because of offshoring. Next time you want

to complain about offshoring, try this: don’t buy anything made in China and

ask yourself whether you are willing to pay the premium (and whether you want

all Americans to have to pay the premium).

 Diego Prada
Diego Prada

This is the speech that the Democrats sell to you. That

offshoring jobs to China makes Walmart rich and puts Americans out of a job.

This is wrong. First of all, you must agree that Walmart is cheap. If it weren’t,

it wouldn’t sell as much merchandise as it does. If it’s selling that much, it

means many people are benefiting from its low prices. What Democrats imply is

that they would prefer having Americans (illegal immigrants, really)

manufacturing toys and t-shirts on US soil, in an inefficient and more

expensive way, even if that means everybody in the US has to pay more for toys

and t-shirts.

lastfirst1701
lastfirst1701

Agreed, I highly enjoyed working as a contractor for the Navy. The problem is when you have these young newly graduated college kids get promoted with NO NAVY/WORK EXPERIENCE while you have 10 years working for the company and get knocked down the ladder, it makes working in that environment toxic. I eventually left, I got tired of the lapse in security measures and being pushed aside. Now....all contractors and feds jobs are at stake....sucks to be them..:) The job I have now is SO MUCH BETTER, my love as a contractor wasn't about the money. I could have made less and still been happy, it was about working for the Navy. I had a great sense of pride, working for the Navy meant more to me than anything.

Family1stLady
Family1stLady

Please don't generalize all American businesses based on your limited experience.  I have over 20 years experience in 5 companies that all do care about family values.  Of course I chose those companies for their values (in this case Christian values), not for a small amount more pay I could earn at a competitor.  There are plenty of great American businesses out there with amazing teams of people working at them, which is why one can leave for unplanned family time, because the absence of one member of a team is covered by the rest of the team.  Are you willing to work extra to help out a team member who needs unexpected family time so the commitments made by the business are not missed?  If not, then you should not expect others to do so for you.  A business that does not meet its commitments will not stay in business just like a person who is not accountable is not to be relied upon.  Mercy is granted for exceptions but a pattern of unreliability will cause a person or business to be excluded from business opportunities.

BLZBub
BLZBub

You act as if you've come upon some great truth (businesses are in it for the money).  Fact of the matter is you expect companies to be these little shops of fun and happiness where you can coast on other people's work.  Then you get all bent out of shape when you don't get what you want even though it was never promised to you in the first place.  Grow up buddy. 

wowbax
wowbax

I don't depend on business, or really anyone else - least of all the government - to act in my interest. No one is going to do that for me except me. That's not the role of either business or government. So I don't have that expectation.

Danyz
Danyz

You are part of the problem, bub. What gives you the right to insult someone who disagrees with your point of view? Why not just tattoo an upraised middle finger on your forehead? It would suit your personality quite nicely. Better check your employee's blogs...  By the way, Sweden is number 30 for suicides. Number 1 is Lithuania, a country where Western free markets have been adopted.

TacomaLove
TacomaLove

Have you tried not buying anything from China? I have. It's nearly impossible.

Hartwig
Hartwig

Sometimes the cheapest option isn't the best option. Sure prices are lower at walmart which benefits low income families, but Walmart is able to do this by squeezing every last cent possible out of it's suppliers, this causing many suppliers to use China as their only manufacturing option. Also this means that they exploit their employees by offering little to no benefits which continues the cycle of poverty.

I would rather spend a little more at a shop i know supports their employees and also provides decent returns to their suppliers. The difference is not that much and tends to help local businesses and suppliers.

Robert Flanary
Robert Flanary

 Walmart is bad for everyone.  Walmart has driven down wages in the U.S. for all companies.  All workers in every industry have become more and more stressed because of Walmart.  When the only jobs people can get are low paying Walmart type jobs there is no mobility.  People become stuck and frustrated.  This leads to all kinds of problems that can not be discussed in such a short space.  Please read The Spirit Level for a complete discussion about why wealth disparity is bad for all.