Towards a theory of hygge public relations

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Pixabay (Creative Commons)
Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Leeds Beckett final year student Rebecca Midgley summarises her dissertation research.

For my dissertation, I chose to explore how the Danish concept of hygge could be incorporated in the workplace to improve corporate culture, internal communication and business performance.

Hygge is a Danish concept focusing on the state of being: it is a feeling of being safe, comfortable and having a sense of belonging. There are numerous books about hygge but there is a gap in the literature in whether this is applicable in public relations.

Having a desirable company culture is becoming an increasingly important competitive advantage for businesses. Businesses are competing with one another to find capable and motivated employees; therefore, they must provide benefits and perks to make them stand out in this competitive employment market.

My research project explored lessons from Scandinavian business culture to provide insight into how to increase workplace happiness through good communication and a comfortable environment.

Scandinavia is a group of small countries in Europe that has had a disproportionate global reach in terms of its culture. Culture is the key theme that emerged from the secondary research, containing the following sub themes: environment, décor, communication, workplace dress, togetherness and management structure. Focusing on these themes helped to reveal patterns across the research in the different businesses and from interviewing individuals, showing both the positive and negative outcomes from applying the hygge concept to a corporate environment.

This research paper contributes to the understanding of how hygge public relations can be implemented into businesses. The literature review identified key trends around values and culture, internal communication, semiotics, external communication and management structure. The trends that emerged from the primary research were open communication, trust, collaboration and comfort.

To support my hypothesis that hygge is applicable to public relations, qualitative research methods including ethnography and semi-structured interviews were used to provide primary data to provide further substance to the academic literature review. To study how prevalent the hygge concept is currently in UK businesses, I conducted ethnographic research in the head office of Waitrose in Bracknell, the IKEA office in Leeds and the Wilmington Healthcare office based in Nottingham.

I also interviewed an employee from the Danish Embassy in London who warned me that hygge can exclude as well as include. Not everyone is comfortable working in an open, non-hierarchical environment where consensus is expected.

The varying methods and number of participants in the research provided sufficient data to contribute to the analysis and recommendations.

The evidence and analysis suggest that there are various influences that can affect the internal environment of a business, which therefore affects its performance. The ethnographic research looked at what the businesses are currently doing successfully through incorporating a hygge environment, and how things could be improved through a hygge approach. In this way, I explored the new concept of hygge public relations.

The interviews showed what it is like working in a Scandinavian business, exploring which aspects of hygge impact the business, both positively and negatively. The research also explored claims that a supportive organisational culture can contribute towards improved business performance as theorised by Cravens et al (2006).

I concluded that a connection can be made between elements of hygge and how business performance can be affected by internal communication. Further study and research is recommended to explore how business performance may be positively affected if it implemented the concept of hygge public relations.

One key conclusion from this research project is the importance of open communication.

Open communication was a key trend that emerged through both the primary and secondary research, therefore it can be regarded as integral for businesses to ensure communication is open in order to enhance internal communication.

The other key conclusions include ensuring there is trust and collaboration in the business and that this is prevalent through the communication, in addition to ensuring employees feel both physically and emotionally comfortable.

I expected there to be a heavy focus on internal surroundings and décor, however the research showed a deeper focus on intangible things such as trust, openness and collaboration.

Although not all the businesses involved in the primary research were Danish, similar examples of hygge could be found in each business. Whether this was the management style, openness in the office, or décor, there was an element of the hygge concept in each business. Therefore, this research has taken the key examples from each business where hygge can be found and led to recommendations for how to apply each element of hygge to create hygge public relations, a concept applicable in internal communication.

This research may contribute to helping improve aspects of internal communication through providing insight into what currently works and doesn’t work for businesses. It was common for the businesses that were being researched to feature one or more aspect of hygge, however there was not a business which used all aspects of hygge public relations. Therefore, by making improvements in the business environment, it could be argued that internal communication could be improved after these changes.

This research paper moves on from solely exploring the traditional factors that influence internal communication like types of messages, channels of communication and management to incorporating other intangible elements of semiology such as trust and openness. Thus, this research paper explores not only how to use internal communication, but what may influence the success of internal communication in a business.

Hygge has been observed throughout the research, whether purposefully or obliquely. This demonstrates that the connection has been made, with further research recommended to create a stronger bond between hygge and public relations.

This exploratory research paper worked towards the creation of a theory through researching an unexplored area. With little academic literature published which links hygge to public relations, this research paper has provided the initial research to an unexplored topic that can be further investigated in the future. My research shows that hygge public relations has many dimensions and influences, which does not suggest it is a universal solution for all businesses to improve their internal communication.