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Why Danish employees are among the best performing in the world

Richard Branson is widely known to having said: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

On a global scale, no other employees require more involvement in decisions than the Danes. Often to the disbelief of their foreign managers. However, this may also be the very reason why the organizational outcome and performance of Danish employees rank among the highest in the world.

Danish employees want to be involved in their jobs, and research indicates that high involvement leads to high employee engagement. Moreover, high employee engagement lead to better performance and organizational outcome. The key link between the two being customer experience (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The link between Employee Engagement and Organizational Performance. Based on the article, “Employee Engagement and Talent Management.” In “The Talent Management Handbook by Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, 2011. 2nd edition.

We all know that great customer experience most probably will lead to more top line sales – more revenues.

If your customers do not meet employees who are genuinely engaged in them and their jobs, they are prone to be disappointed, and they will take out their frustration on your corporate brand – negatively impacting brand equity – and top-line sales.

In Denmark, employee engagement does not come without employee involvement – so, involve them and you will have the best possible foundation for getting for building customer preference and loyalty.

In change management processes, most leaders recognize, that it is very difficult to get employees onboard if they have not had a voice in the change process. Personal involvement is key when you want to make impactful change – and especially Danish employees will expect some level of personal involvement when a change has an impact on their work. Leave them out, and you are doomed for trouble. In fact, most Danish employees do not mind change if they have been allowed some level of involvement in the process and given the opportunity to impact the direction of the change. You can even choose a different direction, as long as you have first asked their opinion.

If employee involvement is part of your corporate culture, you are probably also a company that is high on people’s list of preferred places to work. Milenials want to have a voice, want to be involved, and if you can’t give them a platform for doing this, chances are they will switch to the competitor faster than a toupee in a hurricane.

All research* points to the fact that organizations and their leaders have critical roles in driving employee engagement. When leaders seem to value their employees, communicate to them, provide the necessary support to them to do well and lead by example, they create a strong foundation for employee engagement. Additionally, learning and development, is also a key driver of employee engagement. The creation of a positive work culture is another key driver of engagement. People believe it is important to be treated with respect and that they are empowered to make decisions and encouraged to bring new ideas to the table. Additionally, research* indicate that employees who believe that their organization provides career opportunities are six times more likely to feel engaged. The same goes for wellbeing in the workplace. In fact, the psychological and physical wellness of employees is a key driver of engagement. Employees are likely to be more engaged, and thus, more productive if their workloads are appropriate, the work pressure is reasonable and some acceptable level of work-life balance is stroked. Furthermore, research** indicate that employees are eight times more likely to be engaged when health and wellbeing are actively promoted in a company.

Let us dig a bit deeper into the concept of wellbeing. For high performers to deliver peak performance they need to feel physically, psychologically and social stimulated (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Critical Elements of Employee Well-Being. Based on the article, “Building a Sustainability Culture through Employee Engagement.” from “The Talent Management Handbook” by Max Caldwell & Denise Fairhurst, 2011. 2nd edition.

Concretely, high performers will deliver and feel increasingly engaged when their company prioritizes good physical health for their employees, supports their employees in managing stress and when they obtain work/life balance in their lives. Additionally, supporting employees in establishing respectful and effective working relations with colleagues is a key driver of engagement.

I once asked a client—the CEO of one of the largest employers in Denmark—what his biggest challenge was. His immediate response was, “indifference and disengagement.” In his business, he was faced with the challenge that the bulk of his customer facing employees were young, low-paid people who saw their current job as a temporary, transitional stepping-stone to a meaningful next job. These employees suffered from “chronic disengagement” as they encountered low well-being and low engagement in their job. Guess how satisfied his company’s customers were…

Imagine then how engaged employees who work in a physical, psychological and socially healthy environment, can be. Now add a strong leader who makes the same employees feel involved in key decisions affecting their job. These employees will not only go the extra mile and be significantly more productive—they will also give your customers an unbeatable customer experience.


Brabrand, Henrik: “High Performance – The Key To Organizational & Personal Success”, 1st Edition, 2013

*Schroeder-Saulnier, Deborah: “Employee Engagement and Talent Management.” In “The Talent Management Handbook 2011. 2nd edition.

**Caldwell, Max & Fairhurst, Denise: “Building a Sustainability Culture through Employee Engagement, The Talent Management Handbook”, 2nd edition, 2011.

Ledford Jr., Gerald E.: “Fostering Employee Involvement and Engagement through Compensation and Benefits” article from “The Talent Management Handbook”, McGraw-Hill, 2nd edition, 2011.

Kinley, Nik & Ben-Hur, Shlomo: “Talent Intelligence”, Jossey-Bass, 1st edition, 2013.


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