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What is hygge at work?

A college in the UK has started to teach students how to be hygge – the Danish concept of happiness. According the BBC website, hygge at home is Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking mulled wine and stroking a dog – probably surrounded by candles.

So, what is hygge at work?

Can you light a fire and put your slippers on at work? Maybe you can, but most likely the modern workplace prevents that. Why? Because modern workplaces are designed to make us conform. They place expected standards on how we look, how we act and how we think.

Be yourself at work say career site after career site, but how far do we really allow people to do that? An unscientific study of a few dozen website finds practically all of them saying “our great people are our brand.” But do they mean those people, or do they mean the cookie cut people they want them do be?

As Dr Oliver Robinson, from the University of Greenwich in London, said in the Telegraph: “You hear self-help gurus say that the secret of happiness is ‘being yourself’ or ‘expressing your true feelings’, but that doesn’t seem to apply in the workplace. In fact, studies have shown that at work, we are far less likely to be ourselves.

So is being hygge at work a pipedream? I think not. I think being hygge at work is the future to success. Frederic Laloux agrees. In his paper “The Future of Management is Teal” he states, “In (certain) organizations, people typically show up wearing a mask: The bishop’s robe, the doctor’s white coat, and the executive’s suit all embody subtle, but real, expectations. Leaders fear that if people brought all of themselves to work — their moods, quirks, deepest aspirations, and uncertainties — things would quickly fall into disorder. Most people adopt an air of resolution and determination, favoring their masculine, rational selves. It feels unsafe to reveal the caring, inquiring, intuitive, and spiritual aspects of the self, or to express a desire for meaning. Many of us end up disowning some fundamental aspects of our selves. When an organization feels lifeless, is it because we bring so little life to work?”

So how do we infect hygge? Recently at our workplace one of the team stumbled across a lost dog. We took it in for the day. It became The Team pet. The following day its owner turned up and our little bit of fun was gone. So, why not bring your dogs to work? That’d be hygge. Last month I attended a conference in Milan at a Chateau Form venue. This hotel is more than a hotel – it’s a home. Kids and pets run free; you’re free to make yourself at home pretty much anywhere; fresh fruit and basics like mosquito spray and suntan lotion are at hand – you just help yourself.

Some businesses are embracing this more human philosophy – bring your dog to work, have toast in the office, help yourself to fruit and fresh drinks, but this really scratches the surface. How about come to work when you want; swap shifts with people as you want; select the teams you want to work in as you want? Yes, we can’t all have what we want, but the transfer of ownership and responsibility is fresh territory to explore. It’s certainly better than the boring structured workplaces of old.

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