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monthlies OnOffice July9

06 Jun 2019

Is arbejsglaede the new hygge? Meet the Danish idea all about being happy at work

Words by  Photo by Peter Ivey

Ahead of the British Council for Offices conference in Copenhagen, we learn more about the Danish concept of arbejdsglæde

Arbejdsglæde(ah-bites-gleh-the) is not an easy word to pronounce for the average Brit, but it is easy to understand. It’s a Danish concept, and it means finding joy and balance at work. If you’ve got it, then you’ll know exactly what this means. If you don’t, then you’re probably tired, stressed and considering a career change.

Arbejdsglæde is a concept that we all need to start paying more attention to, which is why for this year’s BCO Conference (June 5-7) is taking place in Copenhagen. There, we will explore the meaning of arbejdsglæde through a series of talks, tours and seminars.

Building our own arbejdsglæde

During the conference, we’ll hear how arbejdsglæde can be built into our designs. However, we’ll also see it for ourselves too, through exploring the city and how it works.

We’ll see offices that have striking, beautiful designs. Cumulatively, this creates a city that is unique and interesting. It gives offices, and the businesses they contain, an identity that impresses both occupiers and potential clients.

But things get even more interesting inside. Danish offices Danish offices look markedly different to British ones. Most noticeably, they are simple and stripped back.

Offices in Copenhagen are spacious, with workers often enjoying more than double the amount of space compared to their cramped British counterparts. Meanwhile, local regulations dictate that workers need to be close to natural light. This leads to innovative approaches, with atriums being a common sight in Danish offices.

Light and space might not sound revolutionary, but the back-to-basics approach taken by the Danes is something we can learn from. Too often we can end up following trends and fitting modern features that serve little purpose. Instead, we would be better off following the timeless principles on show in Copenhagen, protecting space and letting in light.

Creating our own arbejdsglæde

While following these principles is important, we also need to think about our industry’s own sense of arbejdsglæde. Yes, we can design our offices to promote arbejdsglæde, but we can also go further as organisations and employers, bringing the concept to our work culture.

In this industry, we’re a diverse group. That said, there tends to be one commonality across the people I meet and work with: everyone works hard.

Working hard is, of course, a positive thing. It ensures we achieve great results. However, people need to ensure they maintain a balance. Too many intense days and late nights can lead to devastating consequences. We hear all too many stories of fatigue, burnout and severe stress.

Read more: Wellbeing at work has become vital to good office design

Together, we need to protect against this. One obvious route is to focus on work-life balance. We shouldn’t expect people to always work into their personal time, and we certainly shouldn’t judge staff’s ability by whether they stay chained to their desks. Presenteeism is no sign of ability or quality.

Within the day, we need to allow people time to rest and recharge. Danes really value their lunch hour, when all employees come together at lunchtime to eat together like a family – often subsidised by the employer.  It’s an almost ritualistic part of the working day, one that everyone attends. When did you last enjoy a lunch hour like that?

Of course, these approaches will only go so far. Stress and anxiety will still persist, even if we all take lunch together and get home in time for dinner. We need to ensure that people can talk about their problems and seek the support they need. We must ensure that we rid our industry of any remaining stigma around mental health. For this reason, I’m proud our conference will be supporting Mind, the mental health charity.

Without focusing on our own arbejdsglæde, our work will suffer, and we’ll struggle to deliver the inspiring, uplifting work that we are capable of – work that can make others feel better and be more productive. We should create arbejdsglæde for the benefit others, but to do so we must also practice what we preach.  

Paul Patenall is the incoming president of the British Council for Offices

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