Work-life balance -apparently most of us now consider this more important than salary in defining our job and life satisfaction, but when trying to define what this actually means, it often comes down to time.
To some it means getting home in time to have a family dinner and read their children a bedtime story. To many, it means plenty of time spent on foreign holidays and to others it means being able to take time off to volunteer or pursue a dream.
To me, it means enough time to be able to indulge in my interests. To be able to leave the office slightly early on a Friday to get away for the weekend regularly or to be able to finish early enough that I don’t have to choose between the gym and a decent dinner. Basically enough time to enjoy the city I live in. My wishes and expectations are not too outlandish, and neither are the simple family-focused wishes of most Brits. But, the truth is that more than 50% of the UK population don’t feel we are getting these needs met – leaving us frankly a little less happy than we could be.
Most of us have heard that one place that really has work-life-balance sussed is Denmark. The Danes came out top of the OECD Better Life Report 2017 for work-life balance and overall happiness, and even though they were displaced as overall leaders of the UN’s World Happiness Report Rankings 2017 by Scandinavian neighbour Norway, they held the title for three out of the past four years. Out of the top 10 happiest countries in the world 2017, a staggering five of them are Nordic countries: Norway (First), Denmark (Second), Iceland (Third), Finland (Fifth), and Sweden (10th). All of these countries rank exceptionally highly on work-life balance. Most offer a minimum of five weeks annual leave per year, paid parental leave for as long as 52 weeks, and average working weeks that are only 33 hours long.
I read a book on holiday last year by lifestyle journalist Helen Russell called ‘A year of living Danishly’, in which Russell moved to rural Denmark with her husband (who secured a job with Lego, the stuff of my 8-year-old dreams). In the book, she explores the reasons why the Danes are so notoriously happy and how their lifestyles differ from the London life she and her husband loved and loathed in equal measures. She discovered that the pre-occupation with work-life-balance was partially the concept of Hygge.
What’s Hygge when it’s at home?
The Danes call it Hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-guh’), the Norwegians Koselig. It doesn’t have a literal translation to English, it’s more of a state of mind than a word and even then very hard to describe. Hygge and Koselig are what’s required to get Scandinavians through the long, punishingly cold, dark winters.
Think a rainy Sunday, a belly full of roast dinner, curled up on the sofa reading a good book with the last of the Fleurie. Warm, cosy contentment. Huge dining tables surrounded by friends and family and steaming dishes of delicious, wholesome organic food. Time spent with loved ones keeping warm and cheerful. You don’t get Hygge when you’re stuck in the office at gone 7pm on a Friday. That’s why the working week is on average 33 hours and overtime is just a sign of ‘poor time management’.
So, how can we be more like our Scandi counterparts?
With the expectations and attitudes of many British employers trailing behind those of Northern Europe, and the gap between our desires for flexible working hours and more time to spend doing the things that matter to us beyond the office, is there a way for us to achieve the same sense of well-being as the Scandinavians?
Perhaps the interim market could provide the kind of flexibility and control over your life and time management while we wait for a social revolution in the UK? Sort of like another populist Scandinavian concept of flat pack furniture. Could you make like a Swede and construct your own Scandinavian working culture by opting for a career in interim management?
Yes, there are slight risks involved in relinquishing your full-time, permanent position for the relative insecurity of interim roles; I am the first to admit it isn’t always utopia. However, if being more in control of your destiny (or at the very least your calendar) is what you’re after, interim work could give you the opportunity to address your work-life-balance as well as your professional satisfaction. The interim market gives you greater flexibility to choose your own hours, choose your own roles or even multiple roles, work more family-friendly hours and boost your career through acquiring a range of skills and experience you otherwise might never get to add to your CV.
When you work in an interim capacity, like in Scandinavia, presenteeism just doesn’t exist. Interim roles are generally created when there is a skills gap, or a need for progression and improvement within a business. Goals and expectations are specific and measurable. Helen Russell said that what she found when employed in Denmark was that you were expected to do a job, and trusted that you would. So you did it and then you left. Nobody worked late, and there was no judgement surrounding your work ethic if you didn’t. Productivity is king, and effort and achievement doesn’t necessarily equate to time spent in the office. Nobody will be raising eyebrows if you waltz out the door on time every day, because it doesn’t mean you aren’t committed or interested in keeping up appearances, your working day is simply done and it’s time for leisure.
Interim placements can offer rewarding, fulfilling opportunities to affect change and make a notable difference to an organisation, as well as offering the kind of flexibility and control that only the most progressive and forward-thinking organisations currently offer their employees in the UK. With Winter approaching, it could be time for you to consider taking the leap to a more flexible way of working so you, too, can focus on getting more Hygge, whatever that may mean to you.