Going Dutch: A Guide to Happiness and Productivity


The Dutch economy’s projected growth rate for 2016 is at 0.6 percent above the Eurozone average, despite the fact that the Netherlands is one of the least overworked countries.

How is that possible?

Well, the Dutch have a relatively high rate of worker productivity per hour. The productivity of EU workers generates an average of 32,10 euros per hour, based on GDP output against labor input (hours worked). By comparison, Dutch workers produce an average of 45,80 euros per hour.

It seems the Dutch have figured out how to strengthen their economy through mastering productivity. So what’s the driving power behind one of the world’s most efficient work force?

It could really be as simple as happiness.

Happy Workers Are Productive Workers

Recent research hints there’s a link between employees’ happiness and their productivity at work.

In a study by economists at the University of Warwick, happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. The research team noted that “human happiness has large and positive causal effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”

And guess who the happiest workers in Europe are? Yep, the Dutch.

Dutch employees are happy 57.2% of the time, according to the findings of research conducted by the iOpener Institute, based on over 42,000 survey responses from across the world. To put that percentage into perspective, some are not far behind the Dutch, such as the Danish (48.5%) and Norwegians (43.9%). Others, such as the Swiss (36.8%), Italians (37.2%) and Germans (37.4%) are way off. Brits fall somewhere in the middle (42.4%).

Here are just some of the reasons why the Dutch are the happiest workforce.

1. They work fewer hours

The Dutch enjoy a much better life-work balance.

In the Netherlands, less than 0.5% of employees work very long hours, the lowest rate in the OECD where the average is 13%. Dutch law states that workers should not work more than eight hours per day, or 40 hours per week. There is a little flexibility here and there depending on the industry and there is also the option of a “four-day week” meaning that the employee can work 10 hours per day, but no one is allowed to work more than

Dutch law states that workers should not work more than eight hours per day, or 40 hours per week. There is a little flexibility here and there depending on the industry. There is also the option of a four-day week, meaning that employees can work 10 hours per day if they so choose.

But no one is allowed to work more than 2.080 hours a year.

Employees are also given a 30-minute break after they complete 5.5 hours of work. Compare this to the United States where workers, according to a poll by Gallup, log an average 47 hours per week, which equates to nearly six full days a week.

2. They are empowered

The Dutch business hierarchy is more fluid than it is rigid. Management and employees work alongside each other contributing to a more

Management and employees work alongside each other contributing to a more open egalitarianism culture. With such a flat structure, decisions are made by an entire group rather than solely by management. Bosses are influencers, but employees are encouraged to be accountable and take initiative. As such, the average work day in Netherlands will feature

As such, the average work day in Netherlands features at least one meeting wherein all employees are encouraged to share their input.

And this is a good thing: According to research conducted by the iOpener Institute, compared to workers from many other countries the Dutch report feeling high levels of control over their daily activities. And out of the 48 countries surveyed, the Netherlands is in the top five for feelings of doing something worthwhile and achieving potential.

3. They get paid more

As of July 1, 2015, the minimum wage for a full-time employee aged 23 or older is 1.507,80 euros per month, or 69,59 euros per day. This is equal to 8,70 euros per hour based on a 40-hour working week.

All told, the average Dutch income is 20 to 30 percent higher than that of the average European. The average salary is from €25,000 to €30,000 a year, which is higher than in Spain and Italy, but lower than in England and Germany.

4. They get a lot of time off

The Dutch are entitled to a minimum of 20 paid vacation days a year, and some employers often allow five extra days.

By comparison, most Americans get about 14 or15 days off a year. But many people do not take full advantage of their already modest vacation time. To make matters worse, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, under the Fair Labor Standards Act employers do not have to pay for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or holidays.

In addition to generous vacation time,  Dutch employees receive an extra paycheck/bonus or ‘Vakantiegeld’ up to twice a year. The money is specifically set aside for spending on vacation. The bonus is paid out once just before the summer, and sometimes again at Christmas. Sure, it’s money that has been accrued over the year from monthly contributions, but nonetheless, it reinforces the Dutch encouragement for better work-life balance.

It seems the happiest workers really are the most productive workers. Are you interested in how other countries tackle life and work balance? Check out this article on global differences in work culture.

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