Norway may be home to 4.6 million of the luckiest people on the planet. For the sixth year in a row, the United Nations has rated Norway as the best country in the world in which to live, as measured by the Human Development Index. The country is second only to Luxembourg in having the world’s highest per capita income, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
And Norwegian employees top the list as the most satisfied of all workers in Europe, as measured in a survey by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Then there’s Norway’s postcard-perfect mountains, breathtaking coastlines, icy blue glaciers, and magnificent wildlife – a virtual paradise for people who appreciate the outdoors – all of which make Norway an ideal place to live and work.
The discovery of oil in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea in 1968 meant that Norway’s traditional economic powerhouses in fishing and shipping were matched by – and eventually overshadowed by – the oil industry. Mindful that North Sea oil and gas are limited resources, however, the Norwegian government has worked to expand other areas of the economy, particularly in information and communications technology and biotechnology. These efforts have led to Norway being ranked sixth out of 141 economies in terms of investment potential in the United Nations’ World Investment Report 2006, while the World Bank’s report Doing Business in 2007 concluded that Norway was the third-best country in Europe, and the ninth-best in the world, in which to run a business. The result is an economic smorgasbord where foreign workers, particularly those with skills in engineering, the life and physical sciences, and information and communications technology, can find excellent employment opportunities in one of the most clean, safe and progressive nations on the planet.
Norway's North Sea oil finds prompted innovative technological developments, including the troll A oil platform's 300-metre-deep concrete legs.
Björn Cochlovius is a German cancer researcher who moved to Norway five years ago to work as director for research and development at Affitech, an Oslo-based biotechnology company. As an academic, Cochlovius made significant contributions to the development of new immunotherapeutic strategies for cancer – work that makes him highly attractive to any pharmaceutical company around the globe. But Cochlovius chose Norway, in part because of its family-friendly society, he says. “We have small children, and Norway is known to have a good social environment,” he says. “That was one reason I accepted the job.”
Norway allows mothers a full year’s paid maternity leave, while fathers can take some of that time as paternity leave. Parents have the right to work reduced hours to spend more time with their children, and the current government has committed to providing affordable child care for every child that needs it.
Helle Goldman is an American who was born in Denmark, and who has lived in the United States, Greece, Tanzania and Zanzibar. She moved to Tromsø 10 years ago with a PhD in anthropology and a Norwegian husband, and works for the Norwegian Polar Institute as editor of the international scientific publication Polar Research. When her daughter was born three years ago, she got to experience firsthand why Norway is considered one of the most family-friendly countries on the planet. While maternity leave is important, she says, Norway’s supportive attitude towards families with children is more encompassing than just leave. For example, attitudes are relaxed enough about children so that people sometimes bring their children to work if need be, she says.
“Everyone knows that bringing one’s children to the office is going to interfere with one’s work, but the attitude seems to be that sometimes it’s just necessary, and a little lost work efficiency isn’t a catastrophe anyway,” Goldman says. “For me, this illustrates a very attractive aspect of living and working in Norway. The society as a whole is very family-friendly.”
JoLynn Carroll, an American who is Research Director at Akvaplan-niva’s Polar Environmental Center, a research and consulting company in Tromsø, says the family-friendly policies have a subtle but important effect on the country’s work culture. “Everyone here understands that you aren’t just raising your kids on the side, they aren’t just an annoyance and a hindrance to your job,” she says. “That is a huge burden that is lifted from people’s shoulders – it’s accepted that you will have a balance between work and your family.”
Reasonable Work Hours, Short Commutes
Norwegians overall agree with Carroll’s assessment regarding work-life balance. The European Working Conditions Survey, which involved 30,000 workers from 31 countries, placed Norway at the top when it came to worker satisfaction regarding work-life balance. Hans Torvatn, a senior researcher at SINTEF in Trondheim who has studied job satisfaction in Norway, told the online publication Forbruker.no that he wasn’t surprised by Norway’s number-one listing in this category. One of the survey’s findings was that job satisfaction is closely linked to hours worked; Norwegians now work 37.5 hours per week, with five weeks of paid vacation.
“We have good work conditions, moderate work hours, competitive pay, and relatively interesting work assignments,” Torvatn says. “Fewer and fewer workers have a physically demanding work environment, and most workers are treated with respect.”
The best job in the world can seem less than wonderful if it takes forever to get to and from the workplace, however. But that’s not a problem in Norway. While Scandinavian design is renowned across the globe for its elegant simplicity, Norwegians have taken this penchant for smart design one better in laying out their cities. When Norwegian cities grow, they are built out from traditional population centres like Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim in such as way so as to reduce congestion, and even to make it possible to get around without an automobile. Some workers continue to bike to the office in the winter, thanks to studded snow bike tires.
Whether by bike, bus or automobile, it’s very easy to get to work, says Nancy Sandmæl, a relocation consultant in Oslo who runs her own business, Doorway to Norway. “There is just a whole lot more space and fewer people,” she says. “If you come to live in the Oslo area, it doesn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes to get where you want to go. That’s nothing compared to what people experience in Los Angeles.”
Once at the office, Norwegians are efficient workers, so that they don’t often have to stay late on the job – which is a contrast for many European and North American professionals, who are used to being at work for long hours and often on weekends.
Sandmæl remembers one group of workers from a large multinational corporation who arrived in a group, “looking like they should have gotten here yesterday,” she says. “They slid into the office and camped out, and thought they had to go to the office every day of the week. But when they came on the weekend, the doors were locked, and they couldn’t get anything done anyway because there wasn’t anyone else there.”
Mountains & Sea
French-born Christophe Pellabon and his Dutch wife, Karin Roeleveld, could have chosen from all of Europe when they were looking for work after completing their doctorates in the early 1990s. But it was the freedom of the mountains, coupled with Norway’s extremely family-friendly work and social policies that drew them to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Now he’s an associate professor in the Biology department, while she’s an associate professor in the university’s Human Movement Science Programme.
The quality of the university, of course, was highly important when the couple made their career choice. But “we came for the nature, and the good quality of life here,” Pellabon says. “There is this very particular combination of sea and mountains here that is quite unique.”
Norway’s glacially sculpted mountains, here outside of Narvik, are fantastic for downhill skiing.
Norway’s numerous mountain ranges, here on Bessegen Ridge in Jotunheimen, offer unparalleled hiking opportunities.
Merete Habberstad, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Trekking Association, the national hiking and outdoors group with more than 200,000 members, says that Norway is unusual in the way that its urban areas are flanked by easily accessible mountains. “The mountains are close to where people live, and they are very accessible, with marked summer and winter trails,” she says. “And for most cities and towns, there’s a trailhead within a couple of hours’ drive, where there is a network of huts you can stay in.”
The trekking association, or DNT (Den Norske Turistforening), manages roughly 450 mountain huts that are open to the public. The huts run from staffed, 200-bed lodges with hot meals, drying rooms and saunas, to tiny one-room cabins where you cook your own food, enabling travellers to ski or hike through spectacular mountain scenery by day, and unwind in the warmth of a cosy sitting room by night.
Many non-Norwegians who come to work in Norway find that they take up the country’s national sport – cross-country skiing – when they move to Norway as a way to enjoy the cold, snowy winter. That was Vincent Eisjink’s experience when he moved to Norway from Holland 15 years ago. “I never stood on a pair of skis before I moved here, and it looked so strange to me,” says Eisjink, a professor at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås, where he directs the school’s protein engineering and proteomics group. “But now I enjoy it very much. It is a brilliant way of training your whole body.”
Language & Culture
In their 2007 assessment of Norway’s robust economy, the OECD observed that Norwegians had taken full advantage of the benefits of globalization in enabling international trade and commerce. That open attitude towards trade may have its roots in the Middle Ages, when Norwegians plied the world market with dried cod. Whatever the reason, this open attitude towards trade means that Norwegians as a whole speak excellent English.
Sometimes all of that English can be almost too much of a good thing, says Jason Turflinger, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Norway. “If you’re trying to learn Norwegian, it can be hard to practice,” he says. “Norwegians really want to speak English – they want to practice on you.”
Ra Cleave, a New Zealander who works at the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute in Oslo, says he found it easiest learning Norwegian while on the job. “I struggled with it at first, but people (at the institute) are really positive to foreigners speaking the language,” he says. “I started speaking Norwegian at work, and then it was full immersion. That made things go much faster and made it much more natural.”
Norway also offers cultural experiences that transcend language – like music. The country’s stature in the world community enables it to attract world-class performers, relocation expert Sandmæl says, but its small population means that ordinary folk have a chance to attend amazing performances. “When Pavarotti came to the Oslo Opera House, I was able to get seats in the 5th row,” she says. “What are the chances of that happening anywhere else?”
Cross-country skiing, here in Hemsedal, is a popular pastime for Norwegians and foreigners alike.