The Scandinavian way of working? Lagom!

Whereas Silicon Valley is widely considered to be the economic darling of this era, Scandinavia is often appraised on a more societal level, providing a rich balance of personal comfort, economic strength and overall societal welfare to its inhabitants. This utopia appears to extend into the workplace. The Scandinavian HR model, though substantially different from that in Silicon Valley, is often seen as another successful route towards employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. It also – and perhaps not surprisingly – ticks the boxes for almost all Millennial work-related desires and expectations shared in our Millennials at Work bookzine.

First of all, the Scandinavian HR model is known for taking a holistic, humanistic approach with a multiple-stakeholder focus (e.g., the public and private sectors, trade unions and employee representativeness). This approach expresses a more multi-dimensional attitude towards work in relation to personal and societal well-being, something that appeals strongly to Millennials. Secondly, the Scandinavian model is also a great example of how a collaborative culture and individual empowerment can go hand in hand. Despite a strong social fabric, Scandinavians highly value individual responsibility and Scandinavian companies tend to operate with flat, non-bureaucratic structures with a high degree of shared responsibility and accountability.

But where the Scandinavian model perhaps stands out the most, is its strong emphasis on employee well-being. While happiness and well-being have become a focus for businesses in the West, Scandinavia has a long history of putting the emphasis on the importance of these qualities in working life; few are the languages in the world that actually have a word for ‘happiness at work’ (arbejdsglæde in Danish, but variants exist in other Scandinavian languages as well). Scandinavian societies often apply the Lagom principle when it comes to work. Originating from Swedish, Lagom means enough, sufficient, adequate, or just right. The concept aims to establish appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection, and moderation is considered the route to achieve it.

          Lagom (adv.) | Swedish | [ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm]

          Not too little, not too much. Just right.


The Lagom principle translates most notably into the number of working hours: the average Scandinavian workweek is among the shortest in the world. Paid leave and holidays are also very generous, with employees often entitled to a full year of parental leave. Scandinavian countries lead the way in terms of flex time, with roughly 25% of employees able to choose their working hours. The Swedish Government has even experimented with a six-hour workday. Since February 2015, nurses in a Swedish retirement home have seen their workday reduced to six hours while keeping the same salary. The initiative was soon followed by other companies, not only Swedish ones, with Amazon recently making the headlines by introducing a 30-hour work week for some of its teams.

There is also criticism, however. Although the study initially found a positive effect on some productivity measures, findings suggest the experiment might be too expensive to expand or even continue, which is exactly what more conservative political parties were saying from the start. Maybe a six-hour workweek is not the ‘lagom’ duration to maintain the current National Productivity levels, let alone make them grow.

Millennials at Work

Millennials at Work

Optimizing and capitalizing on Millennials’ talents, maximizing their impact on business performance. Millennials make up almost 50% of the global workforce; their attitude and approach to work differs vastly from previous generations. Discover how to adapt HR policies to become Millennial-proof.

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