Swedish flagIf you’ve ever had one of their trademark massages, you know firsthand just how well the Swedish know health and wellness. You’ve probably heard, too, about the generous health benefits all workers receive throughout Scandinavia, which includes Sweden, Norway and Denmark. But did you know that throughout those countries’ working population, which in turn helps to avoid and mitigate organizational risk?

As we discussed last week, workers who feel better in body and mind produce more on the job. They are more likely to have brain power free to devote to innovative solutions. And are more likely to stay on the job long term, thereby preventing the loss of human capital. This week, we’ll take a closer look at what the Scandinavian countries get right. We will focus on again avoiding and mitigating risk in organizations of all sizes.

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1. They Take More Breaks

In Sweden, taking breaks throughout the day is somewhat of a sacred rite called the fika, or coffee break. Swedish culture is very much about timeliness. Business travel guides warn against both showing up late for meetings and spilling over into fika time.

As we’ve discussed frequently on the Goldtouch blog, taking regular breaks is excellent for productivity, especially given the fact that most of us work best in 30 to 60 minute sprints. Taking breaks to talk to colleagues, stretch, walk around the office, or have a healthy snack will refresh employees and make them much more efficient with their time when they return. Focusing on something else can also be a great way to solve solutions. It can also help reset the brain into a more creative frame of mind.

2. They Empower Employees

Typically, the Scandinavian management model calls for a shorter chain of command, with greater participation and highly distributed responsibilities. While this may not be possible to implement in many organizations stateside, companies that let their employees have a voice in the policies that affect them can be a big boon for productivity.

This is especially true when it comes to the things that shape their daily lives, like cafeteria or ergonomic programs. Employees should, after all, have a say in what ergonomic keyboards they’re using when they rely on them so heavily day in and day out, and the same goes for the type of food made available to them. The more employees feel their engagement matters, the more engaged they’ll be in the first place. When this is the case, wellness and work habit programs work to mitigate risks at a much higher rate.

3. They Have Longer Vacation Policies

beachAs do many of their European counterparts, the Scandinavians have generous vacation policies (generally about 4 to 5 weeks, though in Norway the month off is unpaid, with a generous lump sum given before the break is taken to cover costs). We Americans, on the other hand, are bad at taking the much reduced allotted vacation time we’re given, leaving an average of 9 days on the table each year. According to some estimates, not taking advantage of vacation policies dramatically increases the risks of developing depression and heart disease. What’s more, it deprives employees of a chance to refresh and renew, possibly to return with new energy, enthusiasm and ideas.

What to do? Even if you can’t make your vacation policy longer than it already is, you can still encourage employees to take that time off before it runs out. Creating a culture where vacations are encouraged will have immediate effects on productivity and employee happiness.

4. They Provide Support for Parents

When it comes to supporting parents, the Scandinavian countries just can’t be beat. Danish mothers, for example, can take nearly a year off for maternity leave, and both moms and dads are allowed to work 25% less until their child is 8 years old while still receiving the same level of pay. There is also access to free and low-cost daycare. This could be why most Danish mothers rise to the same level as their childless counterparts when they return to work. This is just one of the many reasons why Denmark and its Scandinavian counterparts are regularly ranked among the happiest places to live in the world by the OECD. And for Scandinavian companies, it means getting to benefit from all that their most talented employees have to give to them, rather than losing them to the home. That’s good for parents, good for companies, and good for GDP.

While your company may not be in a competitive position to afford this much parental leave, again creating a community that supports parents can be highly effective in retaining talent. Flexible time and work from home options are two great ways to do just that.

The Takeaway

From the massage table to the office building, the Scandinavians know a lot about treating employees right. And they reap all the benefits from doing so. Do you think a few Scandinavian-inspired reforms would be good for your company? Let us know in the blog comments.