Happy Workers in Norway

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Only dear neighbours Denmark have happier young professional workers than Norway, a new survey has revealed.

The fact Norway was placed second in the international survey from the branding research firm Universum will surprise few, as the Nordic nation consistently places well in all kinds of measures of standard of living.

In addition to Denmark topping the chart, Nordic neighbours Sweden (4th) and Finland (7th) also placed well.

The Scandinavian flags

Both the United States of America (36th) and United Kingdom (32nd), where many of our readers come from, lagged behind Mexico, China, Argentina, Poland, Peru and Italy in the chart.

The Global Workforce Happiness Index surveyed over 200,000 young professionals across the world and based on these results, ranked their overall satisfaction level, their willingness to recommend their current employer to others and their likelihood to switch jobs.

Why are Norwegian workers so happy?

This is a difficult one to answer as the survey results were a simple aggregation of data but having lived in the country for more than five years now, I think I can take a shot at answering a question about working in Norway.

First and foremost, let's look at the obvious things:

Happy Norway

Salaries. It's widely believed that salaries in Norway are high, and while that's generally true, it's more relevant at the lower end of the scale, meaning Norway sometimes has difficulty in attracting talented leaders from abroad and so promotions from within are commonplace.

Workers at the lower end of the salary scale are well-paid when compared to senior professionals, so the range of salaries is a lot narrower than in many other countries.

The heavily unionised workforce means salaries are kept within bands, published and known to most people with a little research. Consider also the transparency of the tax system (you can look up how much income tax someone pays) and there is much less likelihood for grumbles about salaries.

Hierarchy. Or a lack of, to be precise. A flat structure is common and decisions tend to be taken on a consensus basis, which gives all employees a feeling of being involved.

Job security. As Dave wrote in his hard truths article last week, it is very difficult to fire people in Norway. This level of job security means that even average workers tend to stay in the same job for years without any serious threat of losing their job.

An Oppdal ski weekend
Photo: Terje Rakke / trondelag.com

Out-of-office time. Almost everyone receives five weeks of vacation time, and in addition to that I've never known a place where so many people can up and leave the office for the slightest reason. The best example I can give was a lady I once worked with who'd booked a girl's weekend away in the Mediterranean.

The afternoon before her holiday began, she left the office at 1pm to “get a fancy haircut” for her trip. Noone in the office blinked an eye.

This may have been an outlier, but the trend is especially true for Norwegians parents, who seemingly have a free pass to leave the office whenever little Johnny has the slightest sniffle.

Low unemployment. Although the unemployment rate in Norway is higher than in the past (it hit 5% earlier this year), it's still much lower than most other European countries.

To me it seems job creation is seen as a goal for many organisations, just as much as chasing profits. Finally, Norwegians coming out of University generally have few problems finding a job, so satisfaction among young professionals (the object of this survey) is understandably high.

So it's of absolutely no surprise to me that Norway finished second in this survey. The only surprise was that the country didn't finish top, although I'm sure life in Denmark is pretty peachy too.

I assume the second place ranking is down to young professionals in the oil industry feeling less sure about their jobs right now.

That's the elephant in the room…

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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3 thoughts on “Happy Workers in Norway”

  1. Based on my own experience (I’m a software engineer in a largish organization) I’d say that the acceptance of pretty random “out of office time” is because people are pretty conscientious about (a) getting the job done and (b) balancing time in and time out. Of course, the whole idea of balancing “extra hours worked in ” and “hours taken off” is a part of the Norwegian work culture that sounds completely alien in the UK / US!

  2. The list should expand a little to also cover extra benefits, not mentioned. Social benefits (including pension and universal healthcare coverage in Norway) should be added, as well as the fact that many work teams are supported by safety delegates and shop stewards offering individual legal support and help if problems arise, as well as negotiate your salary. Many employees are given opportunity to exercise, either by supporting formation of team sports or actually being granted some space and equipment on office premises. State workers often enjoy 2 hours of paid leave to use for exercising and the office hours are typically 37.5 hours weekly.

    While I worked in the state, we had one day organized skiing every year and socialized with co-workers (very effective team building, of course). It is also a custom that planning meetings are spent somewhere away from the office with an overnight stay. Every year, the salary is typically adjusted upwards for some percentage – and this happens without you having to lift a finger. As the unions are participating in these negotiations on behalf of all workers, it is considered impolite not to be a union member, though the membership fees are quite high (but you can deduct them from taxes or get super deals on different insurance packages to cover the difference). The union membership will also slightly increase your chances of being kept in a position in case of downsizing (statistical data), which in effect for foreigners means being slightly less vulnerable or exposed to being obsolete – though there are no guarantees. The unions also provide free training in work law and psycho-social support for employees for their delegates.

    I would like to comment on the “flexible working hours” mentioned. I was able to participate in office culture both in US and UK. People do not work longer hours there, they just hang there longer, working a notch less stressful days and having more relaxed lunch together. In effect, they spend less time at home or with families.

    Happy, well rested people, who spend more time with their families, are more likely to be an engaged and productive workforce.


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