The World Happiness Report was released last month (Sept. 2013) and Denmark was declared the happiest country on the planet. The other 4 countries sharing the top five category are Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden – in that order. I’m sure, depending on the extent of your global travel experience, you have a preconceived idea of each of these countries. The reasons for their high ranking in happiness are definitely things that should be of keen interest to businesses.

happinessMuch of these things come from the leadership of these countries, the cultural influences and the quality of engagement of the citizens – all of which are created by these contributing factors. In fact, the primary metrics revealed in this report as the key issues that generated happiness were partially the responsibility of the country’s leaders and partially the responsibility of the individual. One could not achieve that quality alone. It is a symbiotic arrangement that makes it possible at all.

Having a healthy and productive workplace is key to a profitable and successful business. Happiness plays a crucial role in this effort and – while businesses can’t only focus on happiness – organizations are well-advised to understand what contributes to happiness in order to gain the best results from their talent.

So, what were the contributing factors to happiness in Denmark and how can it be applied to your organization? Good question…

  1. GDP per capita – In a nutshell, the people of Denmark are productive. There is a responsibility for the individual to contribute, but there is also a responsibility for there to be an outlet for that productivity. One depends on the other. There is a sense of interdependency and not one lording over the other. Find a way to facilitate productivity, instead of demanding it and happiness will improve.
  2. Social support – There is a support for parents and the availability of health care is far-reaching and comprehensive. Whether or not these particular issues are addressed by your organization – although a great idea – the point is understanding the social and life needs of the individuals and working together to find a solution for them.
  3. Healthy life expectancy at birth – Of course your organization isn’t directly responsible for the longevity of someone’s life. You can, however, influence their professional life expectancy within your organization at recruitment. Just as there are many ways to ensure a healthy birth and lifestyle through education and preparation, adding new talent to your organization needs just as much care and attention. Focusing on culture alignment and chemistry, as well as competency, are essential.
  4. Freedom to make life choices – People are not owned by their employers. Having the freedom to live their life alongside their work responsibilities must be available. This includes gender equality. Denmark ranks extremely high among gender equality and that contributes to overall happiness. Both men and women benefit from equal gender representation in and contribution to society and organizations.
  5. Generosity – Danish culture is rife with a sense of responsibility to one another. Generosity is woven into the cultural fabric. Generosity benefits both the receiver and the giver. It alleviates difficulties and provides a sense of satisfaction and purpose. “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” – Adam Smith – The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
  6. Perceptions of corruption – The interesting bit isn’t focusing on how much corruption may exist, but rather the perception of its existence. Even if there is little to no corruption among the leadership in your organization, if it is perceived as existing the happiness of people will be measurably less. One could argue that hidden corruption – for the sake of the “perception” – has no affect on happiness, but does corruption ever stay hidden permanently? Once that trust is lost, so is the productive nature of your employees.

So how does your organization fair? Do you have productive outlets for people as well as opportunities for their social health? How about professional development and the freedom to make life choices without intrusive pressure from the organization? Is your culture generous? Does your organization practice generosity as well as provide opportunities for employees to practice generosity? What perception of corruption, or quality of leadership do your employees have about your organization?

What would you add to this list to create a happier and more productive workplace?