5 Simple Office Policies That Make Danish Workers Way More Happy Than Americans

Americans think it’s normal to hate their jobs. Let us introduce you to the Danish concept of arbejdsglæde. It means happiness at work. Here’s how Danish offices make sure it’s happening.

But why are Danish workers so happy compared to their American counterparts? Here are five fundamental differences.


I once talked to an American who had gotten a job as a manager at a Danish company. Wanting to prove his worth, he did what he had always done and put in 60 to 70 hours a week. After a month, his manager invited him to a meeting. He was fully expecting to be praised for his hard work, but instead he was asked “Why do you work so much? Is something wrong? Do you have a problem delegating? What can we do to fix this?”

Some non-Danes wonder if Danes ever work. Not only do Danes tend to leave work at a reasonable hour most days, but they also get five to six weeks of vacation per year, several national holidays and up to a year of paid maternity/paternity leave. While the average American works 1,790 hours per year, the average Dane only works 1,540,according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics. Danes also have more leisure hours than any other OECD workers and the link between sufficient leisure and happiness is well established in the research.

The difference in the U.S. is stark, and many American companies celebrate overwork as a sign of commitment. “You have to put in the hours” is the message in the mistaken belief that the more hours you work, the more work you get done. We call this “The Cult of Overwork.” Danish companies, on the other hand, recognize that employees also have a life outside of work and that working 80 hours a week is bad for both employees and the bottom line.


In the U.S., if your boss gives you an order, you pretty much do what you’re told. In aDanish workplace, extremely few direct orders are ever given and employees are more likely to view them as suggestions.

Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede has quantified the business culture in more than 100 countries on several parameters, one of which is “power distance.” A high power distance means that bosses are undisputed kings whose every word is law. U.S. workplaces have a power distance of 40 while Danish workplaces—with a score of 18—have the lowest power distance in the world.

By law, any Danish workplace with more than 35 employees must open up seats on the board for employees.

This means that Danish employees experience more autonomy and are more empowered at work. Here’s just one example: By law, any Danish workplace with more than 35 employees must open up seats on the board for employees, who are elected to the board by their peers and serve on an equal footing and with same voting powers as all other board members.


In Denmark, losing your job is not the end of the world. In fact, unemployment insuranceseems too good to be true, giving workers 90% of their original salary for two years. In the U.S., on the other hand, losing your job can easily lead to financial disaster. This leads to job lock (i.e. staying in a job you hate) because you can’t afford to leave. Additionally, until very recently, losing your job in the States often meant losing your health care which also contributed to job lock but with the Affordable Care Act, this will be mitigated.

Simply put: If you’re a Dane and you don’t like your job, your chances of quitting that job without risking serious financial problems are much better, forcing companies to treat their employees well or risk losing them.


Since the mid-1800s, Denmark has focused on life-long education of its workers. This policy continues to this day, with an extremely elaborate set of government, union, and corporate policies that allow almost any employee who so desires to attend paid training and pick up new skills. It’s called an “active labor market policy,” and Denmark spends more on these types of programs than any other country in the OECD.

This lets Danish workers constantly grow and develop and helps them stay relevant (not to mention stay employed) even in a changing work environment.


While the English and Danish languages have strong common roots, there are of course many words that exist only in one language and not in the other. And here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglædeArbejde means work and glædemeans happiness, so arbejdsglæde is “happiness at work.” This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but is not in common use in any other language on the planet.

Many Americans hate their jobs and consider this to be perfectly normal.

For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead havekaroshi, 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.

The U.S. attitude towards work is often quite different. A few years ago I gave a speech in Chicago, and an audience member told me that “Of course I hate my job, that’s why they pay me to do it!” Many Americans hate their jobs and consider this to be perfectly normal. Similarly, many U.S. workplaces do little or nothing to create happiness among employees, sticking to the philosophy that “If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not working hard enough.”


I’m not trying to paint Danish companies as utopias for workers and their American counterparts as tyrannical hellholes. There are bad Danish workplaces and stellar American ones—Zappos and Google are two that I’ve personally visited and studied.

But studies have uncovered a number of systemic and cultural differences between the two nations that serve to explain why Danish workers are on average so much happier than American ones.

This goes far beyond happiness. We know from any number of studies that happy workers are more productive and innovative and that consequently, happy companies have happier customers and make more money. This may help explain why Danish workers are among the most productive in the OECD and why Denmark has weathered the financial crisis relatively well, with a current unemployment rate of only 5.4%.

WRITTEN BY Alexander Kjerulf for FastCoExist.com

Read more of Kjerulf ‘s thoughts about workplace happiness in his book Happy Hour is 9 to 5 : How to Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work

So thrilled to be quoted in Newsday in this great piece on how online classes can be used to further professional development. 

Fast Track Node: From 0 to 60 With Express

I’m thrilled to say that the first event of the newly rebooted Front End Innovators meetup was a success. 


Joe Stanco, Front End Engineer at Buzzfeed, gave a great talk on Express, a web application framework for Node.js, inspired by Sinatra.


A great group of technologists attended and kept the conversation going while mixing, mingling, and snacking on Num Pang sandwiches.


If you’re interested in the presentation you can check out the source code and the hosted presentation itself.


The next meetup will be January 15th and the topic will be d3 and data visualization. See you there!

I am incredibly excited because I just realized the 1 Second Everyday app is now available on Android. The creator, Cesar Kuriyama, did a wonderful TED talk, but I hadn’t heard of his app until I saw him speak at Chris Guillebeau's World Domination Summit this year. 

Cesar hated that he was forgetting so many things he’d done in the past so he started recording 1 second of his life every day. He uses these short visualizations to help him remember each distinct day of his life. He found that doing this also pushed him to do something memorable every day so that he’d have an interesting video to take.

If you do this every day for 10 years, you’ll have a 1 hour video chronicling the last decade of your life. If like me you’re around 30 and you start doing this now, you’ll have a 5 hour video of the last 50 years of your life when you turn 80. 

This simple app is so brilliant and powerful. I can’t wait to start using it today.

An Evening with Yext and NYC Hacker Union

My recap of Yext’s most recent event is up on their blog and also below:

On Thursday, August 8, the 
Yext engineering team welcomed 100 software developers, hackers, and innovators as we hosted the NYC Hacker Union for a Hacker Forum at our Madison Square Park HQ.

HU 1

NYC Hacker Union organizer, Brandon Diamond, and Sean MacIsaac, CTO at Yext, welcomed the crowd and kicked off the event.


Left to right: Brandon Diamond, Sean MacIsaac.

The topic for the night was screen scraping, a technique to extract data from human-readable output on a website. The evening included three presentations:

  • Kevin Caffrey, Software Engineer at Yext, gave an overview of how Yext works and explained how they scrape sites to verify data accuracy on their 175,000+ active clients.

  • Cole Diamond, Program Manager at Microsoft, shared an anecdotal story from his hacker days at Columbia and explained that it’s important to conduct screen scraping in an ethical way.

  • Jonathan Dahan, Media Technology Developer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, demonstrated his api, scrAPI.org, and how he uses it to scrape data from theMetmuseum Collection.

Left to right: Kevin Caffrey, Cole Diamond, Jonathan Dahan.

Attendees asked great questions, made new friends, and enjoyed an array of food and drinks, provided by the Yext engineering team. Special thanks to YextNYC Hacker Union and Brandon Diamond for organizing a fun and informative event.


Want to hear about upcoming events? Join our mailing listfind us on Facebook, and follow @Yext and @HackerUnion on Twitter!

The wildly successful NYC Schools Gap App Challenge



Check out the winners and all of the eligible apps here

Proud to have been part of this amazing competition!

Highlights of UserConf 2013

On May 3rd, 2013 I had the pleasure of attending UserConf 2013: The conference about keeping your customers (happy). It was more informative, inspiring, and fun than I could have thought possible. Here are the highlights:

The speakers. The lineup was really impressive:

Richard White, UserVoice // Founder/CEO
Sarah Hatter, CoSupport // Founder/CEO
Darnell Witt, Vimeo // Director of Support & Community
Rich Armstrong, Fog Creek // General Manager
Marssy Benitez, Flickr // Support Operations Manager
Andrea Murphy, Meetup // Community Manager
Jon Lane, Harvest // Quality Assurance
Bill Bounds, Mailchimp // Head of Support
Max Crowley & Alex Priest, Uber // Community Managers

My favorite speaker was definitely Darnell Witt, Director of Support & Community at Vimeo. The love he has for his job and the Vimeo community really came through in his presentation. He also noted a direct correlation between support team morale and the number of GIFs in your workflow. 

imageThe venue. As someone who used to work in publishing, attending a conference at the Scholastic building felt like coming home. And having lunch on the roof on a beautiful day was a pure delight.

imageSwag and surprises. Frozen yogurt, cake, t-shirts, MailChimp dolls, temporary tattoos, a photobooth, and more added an element of fun that made the day truly memorable. 

imageFinal Grade: A+

The next UserConf is taking place in San Francisco on October 18th, 2013. 

URL to IRL: Stand Out Online & Make Connections in Real Life

Looking for your first job? Starting your NYC internship? If so, join NY Creative Interns at Ogilvy HQ tonight, May 20, for URL to IRL: Stand out Online & Make Connections in Real Life

We’ll discuss how to balance your online and offline efforts, create introductions with both personal and professional heroes, and start conversations that carry over from the digital space to in-person meetings.

Meet other young creatives and gain insights from pros at Gilt.com, Social@Ogilvy, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

RSVP: http://www.nycreativeinterns.com/standout


The @GaryVee Manifesto

Could not be feeling more excited to have Gary Vaynerchuk as the Keynote Speaker for Find & Follow Your Passion next weekend.

Find & Follow Your Passion at The New School

Keynote Speaker: Gary Vaynerchuk.

Do not miss this: http://conf.nycreativeinterns.com/