Trust at the workplace, the Nordic way

Trust at the workplace, the Nordic way


It has been a turbulent year, but this Christmas, let us dwell on good tidings, one from Norway and the other from Italy.

Nordic countries routinely top the world’s happiness list, and people around the world envy their education, health and governance systems. The Scandinavian workplace is also a commendable one.

Cecilie Heuch, chief people and sustainability officer at Norway’s telecommunications group Telenor, told Vivien Shiao of The Business Times Weekend in 2018 that the most important factor was trust.

“We don’t focus on presence as much as we focus on results and performance,” Heuch said. “We think that giving employees flexibility will help them manage different priorities in life. We focus on delegation and empowerment of our workers. We don’t have one manager making all the decisions.”

If employees need to do errands, they can come into the office later, without being penalized. Flexitime is fine, as long as they deliver promptly and well.

Heuch talked about “fika,” a Nordic concept where employees make time daily to meet colleagues and family over coffee, similar to our merienda and coffee breaks here.

But in Norway, the workers do not abuse such privileges, primarily because of trust built into their culture.

Work-life balance is important in Scandinavia, so Telenor never holds meetings in the evening, according to Heuch.

“I am not being nice,” she said. “It’s good for business. It is a good recipe against burnout, and I get committed people who will be with us for the long run.”

Because of the egalitarian system in Scandinavia, gender equality and workplace diversity are important, with generous maternal leaves and ongoing mentoring for women.

Most Nordic companies have a flat hierarchy, which means job titles do not count as much as functions. A technical expert, for instance, has more responsibility than a manager, unlike in the Philippines, where ranks and titles are still prized even if individuals deliver less than stellar performance.

Let us transform the workplace into an environment where people can feel cared for, so they can give their best and make a positive impact.

Such is the Italian coffee dynasty Illycaffe, headed by third-generation Andrea Illy.

Despite the pandemic, the company is doing well. Illy decided some years ago to pivot the company to be carbon negative to help mitigate climate change. Sustainability is top of mind.

“In 50 years’ time some lawyer will come and make you pay for the liabilities you create today,” he told The Financial Times in 2019. “This responsibility goes beyond a humanistic one. It is an economic one. This is about social responsibility. This is about being a stakeholder model and not a shareholder one. The business leader is always asking people to do things for him, but instead he should be asking: ‘What can I do for you?’”

Unlike in Scandinavia, where social safety nets are strong, Italy is more similar to the Philippines, where to get major efforts on the ground, business plays a big role.

“Society is made by the private sector, mostly,” said Illy. “And if you want to improve society then we need to be able to pursue long-term goals which are beyond profitability.”

Despite—in fact, because—of the uncertainties today, businesses need to place stewardship at the forefront.

“Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, and obligation; every possession, a duty,” said tycoon John Rockefeller, Jr. “I believe in the sacredness of a promise, than a man’s word should be as good as his bond, and that is character—not wealth or power or positions—is of supreme value.”

Have a blessed Yuletide. INQ

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via

Contact the author at [email protected]

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