Boost Productivity The Danish Way: 3 Ways to Bring Hygge to Your Workplace

I first became aware of the concept of Hygge one frigid evening in Chicago, after teaching an Intercultural Communication class for one of my clients. Defrosting over noodles, a dear friend and I got on to the subject of happiness and how the Danish really seem to have it figured out, despite their own unforgiving climate. 

Denmark is consistently rated as one of the happiest nations in the world but what's their secret? As soon as I got back to my hotel room, I downloaded the Little Book of Hygge to find out more. 

That evening I learned Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is the Danish art of creating warmth and coziness in life’s everyday moments, whatever the season or time of day. It's about being in a comfortable ambience around people you trust. 

A few days later, commuting on the E train surrounded by disgruntled New Yorkers, I fanaticized about bringing the Danish approach to happiness to America's stressed-out corporate culture.

As a concept, Hygge appeals to my passion for helping people to be happier, healthier, and more productive at work, and so I've been sifting through the data to find out how it might be implemented to reduce stress and increase productivity in every workplace.

What does Hygge look like at work?

Hygge translates to a workplace culture in which:

How could Hygge benefit your workplace?

The American Institute of Stress Reports:

  • 40% of employees report their job as extremely stressful
  • 25% of employees view their job as the number one stressor in their lives
  • Job stress is more strongly associated with health complaints than financial or family problems
  • An estimated one million workers are absent every day due to stress

Whether you are the leader of an organization or the manager of a team, it seems a no brainer that reducing stress levels of employees directly impacts productivity.  And anything that could potentially improve employee happiness and reduce stress must be worth a try, right?

But I get it. You need to be able to predict ROI. And, unfortunately, formal research has yet to be carried out on the benefits of implementing Hygge at work.

With a little imagination though, you can find ways to measure success after implementing Hygge:

  • Assess number of sick days taken in a given period
  • Assess number of hours of daily productivity
  • Assess employee happiness / well-being via quarterly employee surveys in which they self rate on motivation and commitment to the company

3 ways to bring Hygge to work

Think warm and cozy

Warm and cozy may not be adjectives you would use to describe the ideal work environment but let’s reflect for a moment. If the Danish are the happiest in the world due to warm and cozy, why wouldn't these concepts build happiness at work too?

Here are my top three suggestions for creating Hygge at work:

1. Lighting

When Danes are asked what they most associate with Hygge, an overwhelming 85% will mention candles (according to the Little Book of Hygge).  Because most US based offices likely don’t light candles, how about placing work pods near windows?

Researchers at the Interdepartmental Neuroscience program at Northwestern University in Chicago compared workers in offices with and without windows

Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.

Workers without windows reported lower scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality. They also had poorer outcomes in measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction, directly impacting productivity levels.

The case is clear: there is much more to a window seat than just the view. Given the demands of modern business, having environments that bring out our best is becoming increasingly important. Getting daylight distribution could be the key to creating workplaces brimming with creativity, productivity and wellbeing, according to the World Green Building Council. 

Can you identify ways to increase the amount of natural light in your office and help employees to access more?

2. Mindfulness and the senses

According to Ayurveda, an ancient healing science based in India 5,000 years ago, healing can occur through your five senses.  The Danes (according to the Little Book of Hygge) also believe this to be true — that Hygge actually has an abstract taste, touch, sound, sight and scent. 

Since we all have very different preferences in satisfying our five senses, it’s about being mindful of what provides stress relief using our five senses.  What could you eat that would make you feel warm, cozy, and productive?  For me, it would be tea with warm honey.  The sweet taste of honey would provide a sense of comfort. 

Aromatherapy and touch would go hand and hand for me.  I have my own line of Ayurveda Essential Oil blends,so I would apply therapeutic oils throughout the day.  Sandalwood and lavender have always been my go to’s when pacifying stress.  The grounding nature of sandalwood mixed with the calming effects of lavender could help me get through any difficult client situation.

When I am focused on a task and need to stay in the zone, I listen to soft ambient music.  I don’t need to hear lyrics because my mind will start to wander.  Sometimes, I play a playlist from my Yoga classes

Ayurveda, and apparently the Danes (yep, in the Little Book of Hygge), are big on color therapy.  Obviously color preferences are highly individual, but green helps me focus and remain calm.  I re-did my home office and chose a yellow desk so that when I sit at my desk with my coffee first thing in the morning, I feel energized, pumped and totally excited about how my day is going to unfold.  Colors are so powerful.

How might you encourage your employees to create environments that please all their senses?

3. Togetherness

According to happiness researcher Robert Putnam, the best predictor of happiness is our social relationships.

Nextjump launched the brilliant concept of Talking Partners, which is a co-mentoring program designed to help employees increase their awareness and improve judgment when making a decision.

Are you one of those people that will email, text or IM someone who is across from you to ask a question?  If so, get up, take a walk, get some fresh air and have an actual conversation.

Conclusion

Hygge — the Danish concept of bringing happiness to everyday situations by building warmth and coziness — can be brought out of the home and into the workplace to reduce stress and improve productivity.

If you're interested in testing a Hygge-influenced wellness program in your workplace, I would love to help with program design. If you've already done it, did it work? How did you measure success?

Let me know in the comments...