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Everyone needs some “hygge” in their life (hoo-gah)

When I worked in Denmark it was very clear that family comes first. I worked for the international shoe company, ECCO, a Danish company owned by (I am told) the richest woman in Denmark, due to its being a family company and handed down from father to daughter. 

My wonderful Danish colleagues were never shy to remind me that Denmark holds on to its longstanding position as one of the happiest nations in the world. It frequently tops the list of Happiest Countries and, in 2020, it was named the Best Country to Raise Kids. 

Lego and the father of fairy tales, Hans C Andersen, come from Denmark. I read that “Danes are also known for being food lovers, keen cyclists and having quirky mannerisms!” This made me laugh out loud because it reminded me of the time, I once described a colleague as “quirky”, and then had to spend the next 30 mins or so trying to explain to her what that word meant. I found it difficult to explain its meaning while still making  her understand the true affection with which the word had been used.

Danes will tell you that they are humble. I would agree that this is true; as individuals they are, indeed, humble in their views of themselves but, when it comes to them collectively, they will tell you, as proud as punch, how wonderful Denmark is.

Ultimately, they are, as I was instantly to experience, the kindest people I have ever met. They welcomed me into their lives and their families, something that meant more than they will ever realise to a young woman, living and working in a new country. I knew no one when I arrived, but very soon my colleagues became not only my dearest friends but also my family. 

Jax, Pernille, Mads, Vivi, Thomas, Emil, Cecilia, Melanie, Zuza are just a few of the people to whom I will be forever grateful. 

In Meik Wiking’s, book, “The Little Book of Hygge”, the Danish writer explores a word he believes is central to that happiness. As Wiking says, 

“Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) has no direct translation: It means cosiness, it means intimacy, and it means warmth — but it means many more things than just these points. In all the work I have done within the field of happiness research, this is the point I am surest about: the best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.” 

Wiking cites the journalist Cathy Strongman, who moved from London to Copenhagen and who wrote in The Guardian: 

“Work later than 5:30 and the office is a morgue. Work at the weekend and the Danes think you are mad. The idea is that families have time to play and eat together at the end of the day, every day.” 

As a single person straight out of London, I found it staggering that when the working day ended at 5pm, the car park would be a sea of noise, but come 5.15pm it was empty. 

Pernille, my marketing colleague would tell me about her days working in a pub in London, where she spent a couple of years after school to improve her English, before heading back to Denmark. She could never understand why there were so many men and women in the pub on a Thursday and Friday afternoon/evening and why they were not wanting to race home to their families. 

“Isn’t that what makes them happy?”

ECCO built a gym for employees to use, paid half the cost for us to enter sporting events, brought in a masseuse once a week, had team breakfasts every Friday (arranged each week by 2 different employees) that everyone was expected to join where, for an hour, everyone came to sit and eat together before they started their Friday. Happy employees.

My current boss, Nancy, always says that it is important to be happy in your job, but that is influenced by many things. Most importantly, it is about having a good manager in place – something I now have in my current job.

I have experienced the effects of working in an environment with  managers who were  good at their specific jobs, but they were not good managers. Whether you have responsibility for a team or not, it is very likely that younger colleagues will be observing you. I have learnt during my 17 years of working in the industry that the best managers are warm, humble, good with people, considerate, supportive, trust their teams, willing to admit to their weaknesses and, when they make mistakes, do not project their worries on others, give praise when it is due – but take no shit. 

Maybe we should all try to be the boss we needed when we were 25.

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