Whereas Silicon Valley is widely considered to be the economic darling of this era, Scandinavia is often appraised on a more societal level, providing a rich balance of personal comfort, economic strength and overall societal welfare to its inhabitants. This utopia appears to extend into the workplace. The Scandinavian HR model, though substantially different from the Silicon Valley one, is often seen as another successful route towards employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. It also – perhaps not surprisingly – ticks the boxes for almost all Millennial work-related desires and expectations shared in our Millennials at Work paper.
First of all, the Scandinavian HR model is known for taking a holistic, humanistic approach with a multiple stakeholder focus (e.g. the public and private sectors, trade unions and employee representativeness). This approach expresses a more multi-dimensional attitude towards work in relation to personal and societal well-being, something that appeals strongly to Millennials. Secondly, the Scandinavian model is also a great example of how a collaborative culture and individual empowerment can go hand in hand. Despite a strong social fabric, Scandinavians highly value individual responsibility and Scandinavian companies tend to operate with flat, non-bureaucratic structures with a high degree of shared responsibility and accountability.
But what differentiates the Scandinavian model perhaps most is its strong emphasis on employee well-being. While happiness and well-being have only recently become a focus for businesses in the West, Scandinavia has a long history of putting the emphasis on the importance of these qualities in working life, with Scandinavian countries among the very few in the world that actually have a word for the meaning happiness at work (arbejdsglæde in Danish, but variants existing in other Scandinavian languages as well). Scandinavian societies often apply the Lagom principle when it comes to work. Originating from Swedish, Lagom can be translated as enough, sufficient, adequate, or just right. The concept aims to establish appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection, and moderation is considered the route towards realizing this.
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Lagom (adv.) | Swedish | [ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm]
Not too little, not too much. Just right.
The Lagom principle translates most notably into the number of working hours; the average Scandinavian work week is among the shortest in the world. Paid leave and holidays are also very generous, with employees often entitled to a full year of parental leave. Scandinavian countries lead the way in terms of flextime, with roughly 25% of employees able to choose their working hours. The Swedish Government has even experimented with a six-hour work day recently. Since February 2015, nurses in a Swedish retirement home had their work day reduced to six hours while keeping the same wage. The initiative was soon followed by other companies, not only Swedish with Amazon recently making headlines by introducing a 30-hour work week for some of its teams.
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There is also criticism however. Although the study initially found a positive effect on some productivity measures, recent findings suggest the experiment might be too expensive to further expand or even continue, which is exactly what more conservative political parties have argued from the start. Maybe a six-hour work week is not the lagom duration to maintain the current National Productivity levels, let alone make them grow.
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Eager for more insights on how to build a Millennial-proof HR strategy? Get your download of the Millennials at Work bookzine or replay our Millennials at Work Webinar to hear the story first-hand from our NextGen expert Joeri Van den Bergh.