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A Business Lesson From the Happiest Country in the World

March 6, 2020

According to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum and UN, Finland has been crowned the “Happiest Country in the World” for two years running. The ranking measures aspects such as access to community and healthcare, and the overall work-life balance a county offers. So why Finland?

Anu Partanen of Huffpost sums it up best: Finnish society has been built in such a way that its citizens feel both supported and yet still in control of their own lives. Their government takes care of the cultural amenities needed for a comfortable life, but without overstepping the personal choices of its people.

As a Finn myself, I continue to see the effects of the way our culture sets us up for success. Not only was I raised and steeped within this culture, but it drove me to help build a business with similar structure and values. Unsurprisingly, that company was eventually named Finland’s Best Workplace.

Today I’ll walk you through how this sense of support can save a business and some programs you can implement today to foster a stronger workplace.

Why Finland Is So Happy

Despite not having the globe’s highest Gross Domestic Product, Finland was still able to beat out some of the richest countries in the world for this title. The report’s authors insist measuring happiness is surely not just about money — although it plays a factor, as the top 10 contenders are affluent countries.

Weforum calls attention to the country’s social safety net, aspects such as universal healthcare and safe communities. This social safety net allows citizens no burden of worrying about health costs, insurance, childcare, etc. Combine this sense of security with the personal freedom of free will and a healthy, acceptable work-life balance. These elements give the country its edge over others. Finland’s patrons are taken care of, yet independent in their daily lives.

A First-Hand Look at How Happiness Helps Business

In 2013, our software company Vincit experienced a serious slowdown in its financial performance although nothing had structurally changed in our business plan. What were we doing wrong?

When looking deeper into the cause, we discovered that our employees were miserable.

We had to make drastic changes, and quickly. Vincit took decisive action to repair our employee’s relationship with their work. We decided to ignore standard KPIs and focus on the very people who make our business.

“We decided to ignore standard KPIs and focus on the very people who make our business.”

Growth, sales, and profitability were set aside; it’s not just about the money after all. Vincit chose to remove middle management, giving employees room to hone in on what they do best.

Back in 2013, Vincit’s revenue was at $5 million. Then, we followed Finland’s lead and made the necessary changes to put happiness first in the workplace. We restructured our entire business, not to increase growth or profit, but to offer the kinds of social safety support our workers needed to feel happier in and out of the workplace.

Today the company is roughly $50 million in revenue — and our employees feel both supported and in charge of their daily lives.

How You Can Start Supporting Your Employees

Creating a workplace culture that supports its employees and motivates them isn’t about talk, it’s about action and implementation. Businesses and leaders need to move quickly and act to implement programs that create an employee-supported culture. That’s what we had to do in 2013: not just talk, but act.

For some ideas of programs to put in place, here are some that Vincit uses in our own workplace with great success.

Developer/Employee-Chosen Teams

  • Allow your employees to choose which projects and clients they are interested in and genuinely want to work on and with.
  • Vincit now listens carefully to what each developer wants to do, and this allows developers to have direct say in how their career progresses.

CEO for a Day

  • Begin a program that allows one employee per month to be chosen to act as CEO for the day.
  • The acting CEO can make any single decision that will improve workplace culture with no budget restrictions!
  • This builds trust between all employees, and teaches decision making to those not normally in such a position.

Leadership as a Service

  • Vincit now lists an E-commerce of complimentary services that the company provides for employees to tap into if they wish.
  • This program allows workers to order performance analysis or discussions, salary discussions, career coaching, and all other possible types of coaching.
  • As it turns out, bottom-up leadership works best for our business, as it does for Finland.

In addition to the concrete actions detailed above, there are many more reports and videos you can look into that take a deep dive into Finland’s reputation as the happiest country on Earth.

If you’re feeling curious about these tactics, try adopting a few of Vincit’s programs towards employee happiness as listed above. Make the commitment to use this method and revitalize your workplace to help your most important asset: the employees.

Stakeholder Capitalism
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