HR & Management

5 reasons the Dutch are so much happier at work than the British

5 min read

30 November 2014

Is Holland a hotspot for employee happiness? It seems so. Here are the five things that makes the Dutch a lot happier at work than the British – and how you can adopt them.

As we near 2015, thoughts turn to the dreaded January blues. It is the month where the warm Christmas glow lit by Monty the Penguin and friends has faded away, New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside and the January payday still feels some way off.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, UK managers wanting to preserve employee well-being should look to their Dutch neighbours for inspiration. 

According to the iOpener Institute’s latest research, the Dutch are the happiest employees in Europe, spending 57.2 per cent of their time at work happy. This finding is based on over 42,000 survey responses from across Europe.

While 57.2 per cent may not seem like a high proportion, it is significantly better than the British who spend only 42.4 per cent of their time at work happy. So what is it that’s making the Dutch happier than the British? And why does it matter?

The Dutch have higher than average salaries, and a shorter than average working week. And just before the start of the Summer holiday period, Dutch workers receive vakantiegeld, or vacation money. Vakantiegeld is equivalent to 8 per cent of annual income, is paid on top of the usual salary, and is meant to go towards the cost of the annual holiday. 

However, when we look at the five key drivers of happiness at work, the Dutch performed well across the board, suggesting that it’s the working experience as a whole that’s keeping employees happy. 

The five broad drivers that underpin happiness at work are: 

Contribution
This is about what you do, so it’s made up of some of the core activities which happen at work. Like having clear goals, moving positively towards them, talking about issues that might prevent you meeting your objectives and feeling heard when you do so. You’ll do all this best when you feel appreciated and valued by your boss and your colleagues. 

Conviction
This is the short-term motivation both in good times and bad. That’s the key point: keeping going even when things get tough, so that you maintain the resources which pull you through. Key to doing this is feeling that you’re resilient, efficient and effective.

Culture
Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party – all the time. So it’s hugely draining and de-energizing. If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you. 

Commitment
Commitment matters because it taps into the macro reasons of why you do the work you do. Some of the underlying elements of commitment are perceiving you’re doing something worthwhile, having strong intrinsic interest in your job, and feeling that the vision of your organization resonates with your purpose. 

Confidence
Confidence is the gateway to the other four drivers. Too little confidence and nothing happens: too much leads to arrogance and particularly poor decisions. Without greater levels of self-belief, the backbone of confidence, there will be few people who’ll take a risk or try anything new. 

Overall countries that show the highest levels of happiness at work also show the highest levels of productivity. So it’s no surprise that as well as spending the most time happy, Dutch workers are also the most productive in Europe. 

They spend 65.6 per cent of their time on work-related tasks. Once companies understand their own performance within the various areas of happiness at work, they can look to address where they are falling behind, and as a result, boost levels of productivity.  

Jessica Pryce-Jones is joint founder and partner of the iOpener Institute.