Summer Is Here, and so Are Leisure Values

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With Midsummer right behind the corner, Sweden is officially entering into summer mode. This also means that the blog will make a brief hiatus to grant the author some long-anticipated vacation, and we will be back on track again in August. Before we all go kicking back in the nearest hammock, however, I thought we would end with a closer look at a trend that has a clear relationship with vacation: Namely, the increasing importance of leisure values in working life.

People are often talking about differences between generations in the workplace, not least with reference to the Millennials. Readers with good memory might remember from earlier blog posts that differences are not all that overwhelming. But there is one trend that really stands out as clear, and that is the increasing importance placed on leisure values – i.e., the extent to which you desire free time, vacation, and the possibility to combine work with other life domains.

This craving did not arrive with the Millennials, though. If you look at the well-made, longitudinal research studies that exist, you are struck by how the importance of leisure time has steadily increased since the 1950s. Over consecutive generations, people are placing ever more focus on vacation, the ability to take time for family and hobbies, as well as flexible working arrangements (e.g. Smola & Sutton, 2002Twenge et al., 2010; Wray-Lake et al., 2011). And this begins long before people have children, implying that it is not just about work-family balance. We seem to be dealing with an expression of a very broad mega-trend in society, and the prime suspect is individualization (Lyons & Kuron, 2014): Our increased focus on self-actualization and self-development.

As I have argued before, companies that are stressed about not adapting quickly enough to “the new generation” should be less concerned about Millennials being vastly different than older cohorts (they are not), and more focused on the long-term trends in what we really want from work. And leisure values stand out as one of the clearest. Really, you can think of this trend as taking at least three different expressions, all of which companies will need to consider:

  1. A desire to have time for a life outside of work. People increasingly want their jobs to accommodate their private lives. For instance, with every generation, there is a lower willingness to work overtime, a higher demand for vacation, and an increased focus on hobbies and personal interests. For quite some time, we have seen companies accommodating this by allowing flexible work hours and to a lower extent telecommuting. A current example of how powerful this can be as an employer branding strategy is Spotify’s export of Swedish parental leave.
  2. Wanting work to be fun. Leisure values are not only about hobbies and family time; they have also started to taint the way we view work itself. Put simply, we increasingly want work to be fun (Schullery, 2013). This can entail having access to non-work activities on company premises, such as sports facilities and nice cafeterias. But it can also be about creating an informal and open atmosphere where people feel at ease trying out new ideas – for instance, world-renowned design agency Ideo is famous for encouraging teams to make work as play-like as possible, in order to get creative ideas going.
  3. An expectation not having to separate the two spheres. There is a lot of debate going on right now about whether the break-up of boundaries between work and outside life really is healthy. One thing we can say for sure, however, is that people increasingly ask for the possibility to flexibly go back and forth between the two (Twenge et al., 2010). For instance, having to ask permission to go to the hairdresser or the dentist during work hours is increasingly perceived as old-fashioned, at least in conventional office jobs. Another example is the possibility to take a course out of personal interest, which may or may not become relevant to your work later on.

As stated above, the trend of increasing leisure values is pervasive and shows no sign of plateauing. Hence, it is a good idea to put the question of how to cater for it on your organization’s talent management agenda. After our own leisure values have materialized in the shape of some well-deserved vacation, that is.

Have a great summer!

PS. Do you have ideas or requests for what you would like to read about in the fall? Please drop me an email at – all input is warmly welcomed!



Nordic Countries Top New Global Talent Index


It is probably lost on no one  that talent – human knowledge, skills, abilities, and drive – has come to be viewed as a top competitive resource for organizations. The same however applies to the macro-level entities of society as well: The future prosperity of countries, regions, and cities will to a large extent hinge upon their ability to attract and retain talented people.

The top-ranked French business school INSEAD has realized this, and since 2013 they therefore publish an annual report called the Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI). Apart from containing highly interesting analyses of various aspects of the talent issue, the report ranks both countries and cities according to their ability to attract, enable, grow, and retain talent. The 2017 edition was recently launched, and the reading is quite a delight for Nordic people. Not only do all of us rank in the top 15 (with Sweden coming in first as number 5); we also slay when it comes to top-ranking cities. Copenhagen actually tops the entire list, followed by Zurich, Helsinki, and San Francisco. Somewhat surprisingly, Gothenburg makes quite a jump and comes in as number 5.

You might wonder why the list is not completely dominated by the famous monster cities such as London, L.A., New York, and San Francisco. The reason, according to the authoring researchers, is that the report adopts a multifaceted view of talent competitiveness. The famous super hubs are very good at attracting talent, but less apt at the “enabling” and “retaining” parts. The European cities consistently come out as better at enabling talent, i.e., make it possible for them to deploy their skills and realize their potential. This has to do with aspects such as vast investments in ICT and R&D clusters. When it comes to retaining talents long-term, a bunch of smaller cities are the ones that come out as excellent. These cities have consistently worked on offering a great quality of life, including ambitious work with sustainability, safety, culture, and healthcare access. These, it turns out, may not be the number one factors that attract huge amounts of talent – but those that get there, tend to stay.

But in addition to this, why are the Nordic countries faring so well? According to the authors, a number of factors contribute. First of all, our societies were early adopters when it came to digitalization. Vast investments in ICT, coupled with our trust in institutions and far-reaching collaboration between the state and private stakeholders, paved the way. Further, we get credit for having kept our high focus on work-life balance and flexibility in working life; factors that are now increasingly sought after by talents. In addition, the report emphasizes the many benefits of free education and generous welfare systems.

So, can we then rest on our laurels? Not really, according to the report, which also identifies a couple of important areas where the Nordics need to speed up. Most notably, the authors lament the slow adoption of digital technology in our education systems, as well as the crazy housing market in our major cities. Lots to do still, in other words – but the report certainly represents a feather in our cap as a talent region.

The whole report can be found here.