Cultivating a positive and productive work environment is increasingly paramount in an age of stress and burnout. What better nation to learn from than the Danes, consistently ranked among the happiest in the world?

Don’t believe me? According to the World Happiness Report 2023, Denmark ranked second among the happiest countries. Furthermore, US News ranked it fifth among countries viewed as happy by global survey respondents.

So, why are the Danes so happy? This is where Danish vocabulary comes into play.

The Danish language is filled with words that capture the essence of well-being and togetherness. So, is your workplace ready for a dose of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah)? Here are 10 Danish words that can enhance your productivity, workplace, and life.

1. Hygge

As explained in a previous Calendar article, Hygge is derived from the Norwegian word hugga, meaning ‘to comfort’ or ‘to console,’ similar to the English hug.” In addition, it is a defining characteristic of Danish culture.

This relates to a feeling of coziness, contentment, and well-being caused by simple pleasures and meaningful connections. It’s not just about aesthetics; it’s about creating a safe, welcoming environment where people feel comfortable being themselves. Think of flickering candlelight, warm blankets, and steaming hot cocoa accompanied by laughter.

Hygge can be incorporated into the workplace by encouraging team bonding activities such as potluck lunches, game nights, or even just taking breaks to chat and drink tea.

2. Arbejdsglæde

Danish job satisfaction is so serious that it’s referred to by a singular word — arbejdsglæde (“ahh-bites-gle-the”). Though Danish in origin, it is understood throughout the Nordics to mean “happiness at work.”

It consists of two parts:

  • Arbejde: Means work
  • Glæde: Means joy or happiness

The Danish work ethic encapsulates flexible hours, flat organization structures, and low power distances, all focusing on helping workers thrive – not just survive.

Its meaning, however, goes beyond simply describing job satisfaction. It can also refer to the satisfaction of a job well done at the end of a long day.

3. Pyt

This is a Danish cultural concept that is pronounced “pid.” It is usually used as an interjection to convey that something does not matter or carry much weight.

It means “never mind” or “don’t worry about it.” These expressions, however, fail to convey its positive connotations.

As a stress management technique, Pyt focuses more on cultivating healthy thoughts. Most commonly, it is a reaction to a daily inconvenience, frustration, or error.

“Pyt buttons” are used by Danish teachers to assist students in letting go of minor frustration. As a result of this approach, children learn to cope with small setbacks and to accept that nothing is perfect.

Similarly, ‘Pyt’ is a Scandinavian word for happiness. A significant aspect is stepping back and resetting your mind and soul.

4. Overskud

In its literal sense, overskud, pronounced owa-skood, means simply “surplus.” But when used descriptively, overskud refers to someone capable of achieving extraordinary things because they have extra energy, headspace, or capacities.

A healthy mind and body and the motivation to make extra efforts are the keys to achieving overskud. In other words, delivering a great result after multiple all-nighters that aren’t sustainable isn’t overskud. The same goes for buying expensive presents for colleagues and family members.

Moreover, the word is used when people are incapable ble of tackling an event, task, or obligation.

Instead of saying “I’m swamped,” Danish people might say they don’t have enough overskud to go to a party or have mulled wine to celebrate the holidays. Simply put, it means that something sounds fun, and you’d like to do it but lack of energy to do it.

5. Umage

The word umage (pronounced oo-may) means to put in that extra effort to make someone else happy. It may be in the work we do, in the home we live in, or in the relationships we have. The essence of umage is giving someone an exceptional performance or great experience by pulling on your inner strength.

Whether at work or at home, it can be easy to get into a routine of doing what needs to be done. When work or chores aren’t going well, it can be easy to shrug them off and say “it’s good enough.” However, umage means going the extra mile to be the best.

Is this a call to embrace perfectionism or an invitation to overwork yourself? Of course not. It’s all about being the best version of yourself that you can be.

6. Samfundssind

The Danish word samfundssind roughly translates to “community-mindedness” in English. The word is a compound noun made up of the words ‘samfund’ (society) and ‘sind’ (mind). It dates back to 1936, but Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen brought it back into prominence during the pandemic.

“As Danes, we usually seek community by being close together,” she said. “Now, we must stand together by keeping apart. We need samfundssind.

It is possible for a sense of community to be expressed through participation in activities that are beneficial to the community. It is possible for these activities to be informal, spontaneous, or locally arranged.

For example, you could volunteer during your downtime or organize a coat drive at work. As a leader, you should ensure that your team is continuously learning and upgrading their technology skills.

7. Faglighed

The term ‘faglighed’ refers to the knowledge, skills, and competencies one possesses within a particular subject, field, craft, or occupation.

In addition, it can refer to:

  • An individual’s knowledge, skills, and assumptions about a specific field, area, or occupation.
  • Areas of scientific or academic study.
  • Fulfilling academic goals to the best of one’s ability.
  • A changing understanding of what faglighed is.

It is for this reason that this word is so brilliant. Essentially, it means that everyone brings a unique set of skills to work, which can be applied to varying degrees depending on the situation. In English, “professional capability” or “integrity” would be the closest synonyms.

As a result of incorporating “faglighed” into our everyday language, we can acknowledge that we all possess valuable skills and knowledge and discuss how to make them as applicable as possible to the workplace.

8. Lege

Although lege has many meanings in Danish, it refers to playing when there are few rules, allowing for creativity. The term lege, pronounced layg, differs from spille, which refers to playing an instrument or a game.

Lego derives its name from the Danish words ‘leg godt.’

Despite not being top of mind, play is essential for adults, too.

According to research, play at work reduces fatigue, boredom, stress, and burnout in individuals. Aside from work, play can add joy to life, relieve stress, boost learning, and give you a sense of connection to others and your surroundings.

Therefore, make time for informal games, team-building activities, and even impromptu dance parties.

9. Taknemmelighed

The Danish word Taknemmelighed means “thankfulness” or “gratitude.” It stems from the Latin word gratus, which means to be thankful or pleasing.

There is a belief that gratitude is a character trait that is essential for our well-being. According to research, gratitude changes our brains and how we view the world. Being grateful may reduce our stress levels, help us sleep better, and make us more optimistic.

As a leader, you should express your appreciation for your team’s hard work and contribution in order to motivate and inspire loyalty. Also, be sure to celebrate the success of your team, large and small, and say “thank you.”

If you aren’t in a leadership position, you can start a gratitude journal and write “thank you” cards to family, friends, or colleagues.

10. Sparring

Sparring is a so-called “false friend.” In other words, it exists both in English and Danish, but has a different meaning in each language.

Originally, sparring meant boxing with someone in both languages. In English, sparring can also refer to friendly competition or a verbal challenge and is defined as having serious but friendly arguments. However, sparring has more positive connotations in Danish because it is a form of mutual support and inspiration.

Basically, sparring refers to exchanging ideas but can also apply to other forms of supportive exchange. For example, sparing with your spouse or business partner over a budget.

The Bottom Line

Take advantage of these simple tips and Danish words to live a happier and more fulfilling life, both at work and away from it. It’s all about enjoying the simple things in life, connecting with others, and embracing the warmth of friends and family.


Why adopt Danish words in the workplace?

In any workplace, Danish culture emphasizes concepts such as well-being, collaboration, and balance. By adopting specific Danish words, you can:

  • Express nuanced ideas. In Danish, some words express unique concepts without direct English equivalents.
  • Promote positive values. Danish words often emphasize a healthy work-life balance, collaboration, and well-being.
  • Foster creativity and innovation. It is possible to spark fresh thinking and encourage innovative solutions by introducing new words.

How can we incorporate these words into our workplace culture?

A few practical tips are listed below:

  • Use them naturally in conversations. You can replace “skill” with “faglighed,” “feedback” with “sparring,” and “balance” with “overskud.”
  • Highlight examples. Describe situations in which employees displayed courage, sparred productively, or maintained overskud.
  • Embed them in company values. You can stress the importance of these words in your company’s mission statement or core values.
  • Organize themed events. Host “Faglighed Fridays” for experts to share their expertise or “Sparring Sessions” for collaborative problem-solving.

Won’t this sound forced or gimmicky?

As long as it is authentic, no.

Make sure you understand the true meaning behind every word and use it in everyday situations organically. It’s not just about using buzzwords, but also enriching your vocabulary.

Are there any Danish words I should avoid using in the workplace?

Although Danish is generally lighthearted, some words might have specific connotations or contexts. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, use positive and universal concepts.

Image Credit: Munis Asadov; Pexels