The World’s Most Productive Countries and How to Replicate Them at Work


By Rob Binns | Senior Writer | Updated: 24 July 2020

Scandinavian countries are some of the most productive in the world. So what are they doing right? And what can you do to improve productivity in your workplace?

Many business owners associate workplace productivity with two things – the amount of caffeine employees consume, and the type of food they eat.

And it’s true – studies have proven that caffeine does boost alertness levels, and that sugar crashes are commonly associated with high carb lunches. However, when it comes to workplace productivity, these are just the tip of the iceberg. 

In fact, there are all sorts of factors that affect workplace output. These include:

  • Company values
  • Mental health
  • Workplace environment
  • Job satisfaction 
  • Overexertion 

Businesses all over the world are starting to recognise this. Reward schemes, in-house mental health programmes, specially designed environments, growth conversations, and flexi-time are just some of the initiatives that businesses are putting in place to positively impact productivity levels. And for some countries, changing attitudes towards the workplace are already paying off. 

So what are these countries, and what lessons can we learn from them?

Our recent study ranks 20 countries by productivity level. By taking annual GDP and annual working hours into consideration, we worked out which countries had the most effective financial return while spending the least amount of time in the office. We then looked deeper into the reasons why their productivity level is so high.

Ready to explore?

The World's Most Productive Countries: Ranked

RankCountry Annual GDP per capitaAnnual hours worked per personProductivity per person, per hour
7United States£45,898.981,783£25.74
15United Kingdom£29,115.631,676£18.93
17New Zealand£31,652.781,752£18.03

Hours worked data is latest available from OECD July 2019

GDP data International Monetary Fund projections for 2017

As you can see, Scandinavian countries make up three of the top six in our table. So what are Norway, Denmark, and Sweden doing to rank so highly? looked into the work/life balance of countries around the world, and found Scandinavian countries had one thing in common – their standard working week is less than 40 hours long. And, unlike the UK, their professional culture doesn’t encourage people to stay after hours, or take work home with them. 

The UK is all about how many hours you can put in. Think 48-hour weeks, the option to  work even more hours, plus that underlying expectation that you must stay in the office until gone dinner time, especially if you work within finance or legal sectors.

The fact that people in the UK work more hours, yet don’t take home more money, goes to show that productivity doesn’t come down to the amount of time you spend in the office. Rather, it’s a question of how you make use of your time outside of working hours. 

By making full use of their evenings and weekends, Scandinavians return to work feeling refreshed and replenished, which gives them a good sense of mental wellbeing. And we can prove this, too. 

A study carried out by the OECD placed Finland, Norway, and Denmark as having the greatest sense of life satisfaction, coming in at 7.5/10 – a fair way ahead of the UK’s 6.7/10

But it gets better. There appears to be a direct correlation between the countries that have the highest productivity levels, and the countries with the highest life satisfaction rates. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland all feature in the top five of each study – surely solid evidence that work/life balance and work productivity levels are closely related. 

How to increase productivity in the workplace

So, ensuring your employees maintain a good work/life balance can go a long way in boosting their productivity. But working hours are only part of the story. As we mentioned above, there are lots of things that businesses can do to increase workplace productivity. Let’s have a look at some of the different ways in more detail. 

1. Promote company values

Workplace group meeting

Being mindful that your employees are humans and not machines is fundamental to workplace productivity. Humans enjoy being part of a wider society, which is why having a solid workplace culture is heavily linked to happiness – and, as a result, how productive employees are during working hours.

Workplace culture can come in many forms. However, a sense of shared values that employees can engage with is one of its most prominent manifestations.

Ben Wilson – CEO of Grovelands, a leading consultancy business – believes that “company culture can provide a genuine competitive advantage”

Company values are a large part of Grovelands’ culture. According to Wilson, an employee recognition programme that “allows colleagues to recognise examples of each other applying (the) values” encourages employees to perform at a higher level. 

In fact, some businesses ensure new-starters align with company values as part of their probationary assessment. This means managers can be sure that an employee has the right attitude and work ethic that will make them a good fit for the company in the long run.

Communication is also essential to workplace productivity, as it encourages a team (or societal) mentality that endorses the feeling of being part of a wider movement. A study by CRM supplier Salesforce found that 86% of corporate executives, employees and educators say that ineffective communication is a big reason for failures in the workplace.

Having an internal communications tool such as Slack or Google Hangout champions collaborative working, and ensures speedier comms across company departments.

2. Introduce mental health schemes

Workplace counselling session

Businesses are starting to recognise that employee mental health (and general sense of well-being) has a direct impact on productivity levels. If an employee isn’t in the right head-space, they’re not going to have the capacity to perform as well as they could. 

In fact, a study conducted by merchant banking group The Close Brothers has revealed that 92% of small and medium level enterprises (SMEs) consider well-being to be important to their business. Its study also found that 19% of SMEs now offer employee mental health awareness days

But mental health awareness days aren’t the only step you can take. Training programmes can help employees become mental health ‘first aiders’, while you can also affiliate with third party companies to provide employees with counselling over the phone.

As the wall of stigma that surrounds the topic of mental health is lowered, businesses are also starting to remove the taboo associated with mental health sick days. A report by the Huffington Post details the positive response email an employee received from her company CEO, after she takes two sick days to focus on her mental health.

By treating mental health sick days in the same way as you would a cold or flu sick day, you provide an employee with the time they need to recalibrate and refresh. 

3. Pay attention to workplace environment

Work colleagues sharing breakfast

Studies show that workplace environment has an effect on workplace productivity. An article by business online publication Entrepreneur lists these factors as having a significant influence:

  • Air temperature – Best air temperature for offices is reportedly 21 degrees celsius
  • Lighting – Bright, natural light is best. If not, invest in blue-tinted lights
  • Noise – Silence isn’t always best. Low level noise has actually been proven to increase productivity
  • Colour – Blue for calm, red for passion, and green for efficiency
  • Plants – In addition to increasing oxygen levels, plants provide natural scenery that can prove stimulating
  • Air quality – Filtered air provides a cleaner working environment, and can improve productivity by up to 9%

Desk-based working is becoming a thing of the past, too. A survey carried out by Dale Office Interiors states 1 in 5 office workers agree that breakout areas increase productivity. This means businesses actually benefit from having space for employees to collaborate, and relax.

We also asked MVF's Head of Space, Susan Stanley, to explain her reasoning behind its recent office space redesign.

Ask The Experts
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How will MVF's new office space have a positive impact on the way in which employees work?

In 2019, Head of Space, Susan Stanley, began the process of redesigning MVF’s London head office to better support its new ‘hub approach’ to working.

First of all, Susan conducted a company-wide survey to find out how employees perceive and use the existing space. These were some of her key findings:

  • Not enough sufficient space for collaboration
  • Not enough types of working area (desk, meeting rooms, breakout areas)
  • Not enough areas for meetings for three people or less

From the results she made the following conclusions:

  • MVF is not using available office space efficiently
  • People want different working areas – lounges, quiet spaces, project space, and collaboration space

She then came up with the following manifesto:

“We will shape a high performance environment that encourages global growth, collaboration, innovation, and learning, so we can deliver growth to our clients”

With all of her findings in mind, Susan was able to create a space that not only met the needs of the new approach to working, but also met the wants and needs of the employees too.

“MVF now benefits from working environments that give employees the variety they need to do their best work in a style that suits them.” 

4. Create a sense of job satisfaction

Playing table football in the workplace

Job satisfaction is closely linked to how valued employees feel in the workplace, which is why recognition of hard work is so important. Ensuring your staff are rewarded with a fair salary, socials, incentive-driven targets, and opportunities for promotion are just some of the ways you can positively impact productivity levels.

Employees like to feel valued. And it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the more valued they feel, the more likely they are to perform at a higher capacity. You’re also more likely to keep your best staff, too. And if you can build a really strong workforce, and keep them, you’re already well on your way to increasing productivity levels.

These are some of the best workplace perks offered right now:

  • Airbnb hands its employees £1,400 a year to spend on travelling the world
  • Transferwise sends its staff on an all-expenses paid holiday every year
  • Lead generation company, MVF Global, sends its employees to Ibiza if GDP target is achieved
  • Skyscanner offers its employees 15 days a year to spend in its offices around the world 

There’s no need to panic if your budget can’t stretch to that – these companies are the exception – but something like Friday evening beers, or a company lunch on you once a month, certainly won’t go unnoticed. 

5. Prevent overexertion 

Woman overexerted at her laptop

A lot of jobs are physical – whether you work in a warehouse, a building site, or a gym facility. And while employees may feel fit and healthy, lifting too many boxes and heavy equipment, or even instructing too many gym classes can often lead to overexertion. 

According to the National Safety Council, overexertion causes over 35% of workplace injuries and is the number one reason for sick days. So while your employees may initially get more done, this method of working quickly becomes counterproductive when people start taking time off, or can’t work due to injury.

To avoid this, always make sure you provide your employees with the appropriate training at the beginning of their contract. Keep secure records of any medical conditions employees may have, and have the right machinery available to assist with lifting heavy items. 

Overexertion isn’t just physical. Also take note of how long and how often employees stay in the office after hours – a time and attendance system will help you with this. Because, as we already know from our table of the most productive countries, working more hours doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more productive. 

How to measure productivity

Now that you have some ideas on how to improve workplace productivity, let’s look at how you can measure it. 

Fortunately, there are already software products out there that allow you to measure productivity. These include:


But how do they do it? 

What is a time and attendance system?

A time and attendance system is the most obvious choice when it comes to measuring productivity. Not only does it register when employees clock in and out, but it allows employees to create work schedules, and log how much time they spend on individual projects.

Many time and attendance systems integrate with CRM and field service software to offer a central hub, from which both customers and employees can be managed. This allows you to measure time-keeping data, using metrics such as ‘projects completed’. 

How much does a time and attendance system cost?

Time and attendance systems don’t come cheap. A software and hardware package can cost anything from £300 to £450 upfront, depending on the features you require. You could go as gadget-heavy as facial recognition technology, or simply have your staff clock in manually using the computer software or an instant messaging app, such as Slack.  

Take a look at our own reviews of some top suppliers below to compare different time and attendance system packages:

Request tailored time and attendance system quotes Receive Quotes

What is a CRM system?

CRM stands for customer relationship management. As an acronym, CRM refers to both a strategy – how you manage your relationships with your prospects, leads, and clients – as well as a type of software that can help you do all that, and more. And while this term may seem more focused on customers rather than employees, the right CRM product can give your small business insight into employee productivity by default. 

This is because each customer has a profile, and every time an employee interacts or works on something related to that customer, their progress is reported. With CRM software, you’ll be able to see:

  • How long it takes an employee to filter a customer down the sales funnel
  • How much time they spend interacting with that customer
  • How much time they spend on projects related to that customer
  • Whether or not they meet deadlines 

How much does a CRM system cost?

The cost of CRM software usually depends on the number of features you require. A basic package could cost you as little as £10 per user per month, and come with features such as:

  • Custom reports and dashboards
  • Email insights
  • Customer records
  • Workflow conversion 

Just bear in mind that the package features you receive will differ from supplier to supplier. 

Request tailored CRM system quotes Receive Quotes

Next steps

At the end of the day, workplace productivity comes down to how happy your employees are at work. Work/life balance, company values, mental health, professional environment, job satisfaction, and working hours play a major role in this. 

And while there are systems in place for measuring productivity, and thus how happy your employees are at work, these systems shouldn’t be your sole indicator. 

Look at figures like your staff retention rate, and company reviews on Glassdoor. Arrange weekly or bi-weekly check-ins between managers and employees to pick up on any areas of concern, and use internal employee surveys to indicate areas where you may be able to improve the way you manage your business. 

And, most importantly, remember that everyone is human. We all have our up days and down days, our ill days, and our tired days, so expecting your employees to churn out huge amounts of work every day isn’t realistic. Be flexible when you need to be, and make sure you’re approachable, so any concerns employees may have are resolved before they evolve into major problems.

Rob Binns Expert Market
Rob Binns Senior Writer

Rob writes mainly about the payments industry, but also brings to the table industry-specific knowledge of CRM software, business loans, fulfilment, and invoice finance. When not exasperating his editor with bad puns, he can be found relaxing in a sunny (socially-distanced) corner, with a beer and a battered copy of Dostoevsky.

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