Jessica Pryce-Jones: Why are the Dutch the happiest workers in Europe?

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Dutch employees spend 57.2% of the time happy. This is the finding of our research at the iOpener Institute which is based on over 42,000 survey responses from across the world.

57.2% may not seem like a high proportion, but actually Dutch workers spend more time happy than their European counterparts. The stats vary widely from country to country: some are not far behind the Dutch, such as the Danish (48.5%) and Norwegians (43.9%). Others, such as the Swiss (36.8%), Italians (37.2%) and Germans (37.4%) are some way off. Brits fall somewhere in the middle (42.4%).

So how do we measure happiness at work? What is it that’s making the Dutch happier than everyone else? And why does it matter?

The first point to make is that Happiness at Work can be accurately measured by breaking it down into identifiable key components: positive factors such as recognition, respect, and time on task; and negative indicators such as likelihood of leaving or sick days. Our research has found that these components combine to make up five broad drivers that underpin Happiness at Work:

Contribution

This is about what you do, so it’s made up of some of the core activities which happen at work. Like having clear goals, moving positively towards them, talking about issues that might prevent you meeting your objectives and feeling heard when you do so. You’ll do all this best when you feel appreciated and valued by your boss and your colleagues. So it’s not just about delivering: it’s about doing that within collaborative working relationships too.

Conviction

This is the short-term motivation both in good times and bad. That’s the key point: keeping going even when things get tough, so that you maintain the resources which pull you through.  Key to doing this is feeling that you’re resilient, efficient and effective. In fact, our data clearly shows that we’re much more resilient than we are aware but we’re much less aware of how variable our motivation is and how to manage it. But actively deciding to do this can make a huge difference.

Culture

Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organizational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party – all the time. So it’s hugely draining and de-energizing. If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues.

Commitment

Commitment matters because it taps into the macro reasons of why you do the work you do. Some of the underlying elements of commitment are perceiving you’re doing something worthwhile, having strong intrinsic interest in your job, and feeling that the vision of your organization resonates with your purpose.

We’ve seen commitment decline for the majority of employees post-recession as leaders and organizations think that tuning into this soft stuff is a waste of time. It isn’t. It’s how you enable your employees to understand why they should make a greater discretionary effort for you.

Confidence

Confidence is the gateway to the other four drivers. Too little confidence and nothing happens: too much leads to arrogance and particularly poor decisions.  Without greater levels of self-belief, the backbone of confidence, there will be few people who’ll take a risk or try anything new. And you can’t have confident organizations without confident individuals inside them.

So how come the Dutch spend more time happy than other European workers?

The Dutch have higher than average salaries, and a shorter than average working week. And just before the start of the Summer holiday period, Dutch workers receive vakantiegeld, or vacation money. Vakantiegeld is equivalent to 8% of annual income, is paid on top of the usual salary, and is meant to go towards the cost of the annual holiday.

However, when we look at the five C’s the Dutch perform well across the board, suggesting that it’s the working experience as a whole that’s keeping employees happy.

Taking a closer look at the research sheds some light. For example, compared to workers many other countries the Dutch report feeling high levels of control over their daily activities. And out of the 48 countries surveyed, the Netherlands is in the top five for feelings of doing something worthwhile and achieving potential.

Henk-Peter Dijkema, General Partner at iOpener Institute in the Netherlands suggests that the transparency of the Dutch working environment may also be part of the explanation: “Being open and outspoken is less frowned upon in the Netherlands than in some other countries. But of course there’s no guarantee that because you share your views they will be agreed with or acted upon. In many Dutch organizations, even when feedback from employees is expected and promoted, it may well be ignored.”

And why does Happiness at Work matter?

Well, those countries that show the highest levels of Happiness at Work also show the highest levels of productivity. Broad correlations between Happiness at Work and productivity are recognized by numerous sources.  Some governments have even started to compile ‘Happiness’ indices, in recognition of this correlation.

By investigating the components of happiness work we can start to assess the full impact that happiness (or lack of) has on productivity. Our findings show that the happiest employees take one tenth the sick leave of their least happy colleagues, are six times more energized, intend to stay twice as long in their organizations, and are twice as productive. So it’s no surprise that as well as spending the most time happy, Dutch workers are also the most productive in Europe. They spend 65.6% of their time on task. This is in comparison to the Germans, for example, which record a level of 46.8%. Improving levels of contribution, conviction, culture, commitment and confidence, will ensure that employees are at their most productive and will contribute more to the growth of the company.

Once companies understand their own performance within the various areas of Happiness at Work, they can look to address where they are falling behind, and as a result, boost levels of productivity.

Jessica Pryce-Jones is joint founder and partner of the iOpener institute for People & Performance which offers a range of robust and proven solutions to help companies build a people strategy that will maximize the performance, productivity and happiness of employees.

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