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WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Secrets from the World's Happiest Workplace

Icelanders are more than twice as happy as Americans. Here's what your business can learn from them.
Downtown Reykjavik in Iceland
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It's a well-known fact that happy workers are more productive than miserable ones. Unfortunately, far from being happy, many workers (especially in the U.S.) are stressed to the breaking point.

How can managers create a work environment that generates happier (and therefore more productive) workers? One answer is to imitate Iceland.

Why Iceland? Turns out that Iceland is one of the happiest countries on earth. Almost three-quarters of Icelanders consider themselves "content," as opposed to only a third of people living in North America.

And that's pretty impressive when you consider that Iceland has some of the worst weather on the planet, is dark all day for half the year, has more-than-occasional volcanic eruptions, and experienced a financial meltdown far worse than the one in the U.S.

With that in mind, here are four tips:

1. Create a Community

In U.S. businesses, success is frequently seen as a purely individual achievement, often at the expense of others. In Iceland, however, conditions are so challenging that there's no surviving (much less thriving) without the help of those around you.

In Iceland, sure, you can achieve success, but only if you're part of something greater than your little selfish self. Communities, and goals that are mutual rather than individual, make people feel more connected and therefore more happy.

2. Encourage Broad Interests

In the U.S., it's considered unprofessional even to have a hobby, much less multiple interests. ("What? You've time for that?") In Iceland, people are proud to publicly play multiple roles and talents. The mayor of the capital city, Reykjavik, for instance, is also known as an actor, a comedian, and a rock musician.

Workers are happier when they can be who they really are, rather than pretending to be "all work." Therefore, rather than looking to hire nose-to-the-grindstone workaholics, actively encourage employees to be themselves and try being who you really are.

3. Put Family First

Most U.S. businesses seem to actively hate families, seeing them as unwelcome distractions from the work at hand. Iceland, by contrast, is beyond family friendly. For example, companies provide nine months of maternity leave--for both fathers and mothers.

Making certain that employees can focus on their families reduces stress and keeps workers on a more even keel. You may not be able to offer months of paid leave, but how about in-house day care? Or how about aiming for a more reasonable (and more productive) 40-hour workweek?

4. Provide Healthier Food

U.S. workers eat tons of sugary and fatty junk food, often because that's all they have time to scarf down between meetings. In Iceland, they eat plenty of fresh-caught fish, as well lots of fruits and vegetables, greenhouse grown without pesticides.

Though you can't be expected to single-handedly halt the U.S. culture's mad rush into obesity, you can make it easier for workers to make better choices, by making healthy foods more readily available and having a long enough lunch break so that fast food is only an option rather than a necessity.

Last updated: Aug 20, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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