Arbejdsglæde: Happiness at Work in Copenhagen

It was a sunny Monday afternoon. Summer showed a last glimpse of itself in Copenhagen, and we were all set for our first gathering on “Happiness at work” – or as we say in Denmark; “Arbejdsglæde”.

It had been a bit of a journey getting there. Not so much because of work priorities and life obligations. More because of the endless opportunities to choose from. The abundance of creativity and inspiration out there. And the joy of being absolutely free to pick just what we wanted a group of keen human beings invest two hours of time gathering about.

We want “Arbejdsglæde”

We had decided on exploring the concept happiness at work. Happiness is a concept quite key in the Scandinavian countries. We wanted to explore what it is at work, and how to get more of it. Not only because happiness at work is one of the three most important sources of happiness in life in general. But also because there is a lot of research backing the notion that happiness at work drives better business outcomes, in addition to a whole lot of human positivity and well-being.

Although, the Nordic countries consistently show up at the top of general happiness indexes, too often, we find ourselves expressing unhappiness with various aspects of our work. Why are we generally happy but have a tough time at work, and what can be done about it?

Being happy at work has proven to be a great antidote against stress. People don’t get stressed from work, but from being unhappy while working. Happy workers also tend to stay longer in their jobs, and most noticeably – happiness does not depend on monetary remuneration or titles. Happiness has more to do with human relationships and achieving results to be proud of. How can we bring more of this to our own workplace?

The Gathering

Arriving at the location a little ahead of time to set things up, we were greeted by a lovely office manager, who showed the way to the gathering area, and helped ready the room. Cheerful and attentive, her attitude perfectly demonstrated “arbejdsglæde” – which to our surprise also was the hosting company slogan; “We aspire to become the happiest company in the world”.

Participants walking in an office space in Copenhagen.

Soon after, the area was buzzing with greetings, hugs and handshakes. Some knew each other well, others met for the first time. Participants came from large and small organizations, different types from start-ups and consultancy. But we share a passion and interest for bringing our full self to work. Several commented that this passion seems to be gaining momentum these days. It’s like having joined a movement – and it feels great!

All were provided name badges. It’s just easier that way. We started by sharing some of the hopes and expectations we had for this gathering. And ideas for related topics emerged throughout.

Privileged as we had been to have Renée coaching us during preparations, we were even more grateful to have her spend her early morning with us via Zoom, to introduce A Human Workplace from across the Atlantic. It really struck a chord with the group. There were nods, smiles, scribbling on notepads and outbursts of laughter. It was almost as good as meeting in real life.

Our gathering followed the typical gathering format, which allows for plenty of sharing, explorations and discussion. And discuss we did.

Powerful observations and sharing

We decided to play a video explaining “Arbejdsglæde”, as the inspirational talk. The people in the video postulate that being happy at work depends first and foremost on the individual. This sparked some interesting discussions around whether formal structures and support is needed, and if so - when and by whom. Can we take matters in to our own hands? What if management actively opposes the initiative? These questions couldn’t be fully resolved, and so we tried and tested non-closure.

We used the Liberating Structures facilitation technique Troika Consulting to share our stories and receive consultation from peers. This worked well for sharing deep-felt stories of when we had felt unhappy at work.

Participants gather at a table to discuss happiness at work.

One group experienced a surprising commonality despite their immediate differences in roles and work. Their source of unhappiness was rooted in a challenge with direct leaders. While meeting targets with respect to numbers, they each experienced that their human-centered focus and process orientation were not well regarded, and management seemed preoccupied with numbers and numbers only. Sharing and hearing others experiencing similar frustrations felt liberating and resonated well in the group.

Another powerful observation revolved around body language. It can give away more than the communicator is aware of. During the sharing of a story long since passed, and not often thought of any longer, one observer noted:

“It was a long time ago, but the way she touched her chest whilst describing the situation, indicates that it still hurts a bit to think about.”

That unhappy situation, despite no longer a cause of unhappiness, when brought forward and analysed, still influenced behaviour and emotions today, 20 years later. Having the space to have someone observe and reflect (or mirror) our emotions back to us can also help us realize how impactful a situation of unhappiness can be.

Making commitments on the spot

Participants gather at a table and view a computer screen.

Needless to say, time flew. We continued analysing happy and unhappy experiences, and shared anecdotes on how people had transformed unhappy to happy, and somehow it felt as if we had only just started, when it was time to conclude.

Everyone made commitments to contribute to a happier situation at work, using one or more of the tools we had discussed. Commitments ranging from actions for individual or team use, to personal plans to do something drastic about their current work situation.

Continuing to create a fun, happy, human workplace

Going forward, we will continue to explore ways to think, act and organise to create a more fun, inspiring and human workplace in Copenhagen and around the world!

The gathered group of participants laughs and smiles and waves.

The Copenhagen Gathering, September 2019.

Want to know more about “Arbejdsglæde”?

There are many sources of research and inspiration to become wiser on the topic. We used inspiration and material from this Danish website and facilitated exercises using techniques from Liberating Structures.

Feel free to watch the video we used for the introduction – it’s in English. From watching this video you will also learn how to pronounce the word:-).

The happy hosting company is Valcon a consulting company with Scandinavian roots.