Why are the Dutch the happiest workers in the world?

Survey after survey shows that people in the Netherlands show some of the highest rates of satisfaction with work and life in the world.

Workplace research company Randstad recently completed their annual survey into work satisfaction, which showed that workers in the Netherlands had the highest rates of satisfaction out of the 27 countries surveyed. A full 80 per cent of Dutch employees said they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their job.

There was also the OECD survey from earlier this year that ranked the Netherlands in sixth place in the world for total life satisfaction. So why is that?

Holidays are important

At this time of year, it certainly is tempting to think that the long Dutch summer vacation plays a part in that satisfaction. Not only is everyone entitled to four weeks’ vacation, there is also that special pre-summer pay bonus: vakantiegeld, that eight per cent of your annual salary that helps you enjoy your already mandated and paid vacation.

Recent research into spending money shows that going on a holiday will have a greater and more lasting effect on our happiness than any other form of purchase.

"In general," the researches argue, "the more we’re exposed to something, the more its impact diminishes." Meaning that camping trip to France may just make people happier than a new car.

So if holidays make people happier, do countries with generous vacation policies have more satisfied citizens? And does the high level of satisfaction that mean the Dutch get more holidays than other nations?

Satisfaction is more than time off

The Dutch have in fact a less than average amount of time off work, with 20 days of paid vacation and no paid public holidays. Compare that to Germany, with 24 days and 10 public holidays, or Portugal with 22 days and a massive 13 public holidays. (See graph below for more.)

So it can’t all be related to those four weeks a year.

Figure by CEPR Vacation and paid holidays in OECD nations

The fact that Dutch incomes are among the highest in the world while the average working week is the shortest obviously has a great deal to do with it. According to Shawn Donnelly, an economics professor at the University of Twente, there is a particular national attitude that plays a part.

"The Dutch have a nine-to-five mentality much more than other countries have. If it's 5.30pm and you aren't at home with your family or on your way there, you're a freak. That means they can detach themselves from the stress more easily than elsewhere," Donnelly said.

Rest of the world

Looking at the infographic below, it’s clear that simply having enough vacation is not enough to ensure general life satisfaction. If it was, then would Americans, who have no mandated paid vacation, ever show job satisfaction?

Yet they do, although perhaps that is because they are generally only comparing themselves to other Americans in the same circumstances. Yet the French, with their six weeks of holiday each year, actually have lower rates of satisfaction.

Life satisfaction obviously depends on a complex combination of a great many factors. Maybe, however, it is vakantiegeld that gives the Dutch extra edge?

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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