Why Switzerland Has Some Of The Happiest, Healthiest Citizens In The World

Why Switzerland Has Some Of The Happiest, Healthiest Citizens In The World

Switzerland is home to one of the world's most thriving economies and also one of the happiest populations on the globe. So what's the Swiss secret sauce? The tiny, landlocked central European country is known for investing in its people. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum's 2013 Human Capital Report, Switzerland invests more in the health, education and talent of its people than any other country in the world.

"Switzerland is a very small country with a small population, and it actually has very few natural resources," Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director of the World Economic Forum, tells The Huffington Post. "The biggest resource it does have is people, and that's what it's been investing in for quite some time. It's led to an economy that is competitive, highly innovative, and has adopted technology fast."

Leveraging the skills and talents of its people is key to the future of any country or institution, and will determine how prepared a country is to face the demands of a competitive global economy, the WEF Human Capital Report explains. WEF's comprehensive index examined 51 indicators to determine how various countries invest in their people, and how they're leveraging those investments in terms of productivity and a robust economy.

"Countries that invest in human capital end up getting returns in terms of economic growth," says Zahidi. "And then countries that have that economic growth are able to reinvest further in human capital. So you have this virtuous cycle that's established."

Human capital is a function of four pillars: health and wellness, education, work and employment, and what WEF calls an "enabling environment," which includes factors like legal framework and infrastructure that allow for returns on human capital. Switzerland topped the index by generating high scores across the four pillars, coming in first in the health and wellness and workforce and employment categories, second for enabling environment and fourth in education -- which goes a long way in explaining the success of the Swiss economy.

Here are five things Switzerland can teach the rest of the world about creating a robust economy and a healthy, happy population by investing in its people.

They have excellent health care.

When it comes to health and wellness -- taking into account longevity, infant mortality, the general state of physical and mental health of the population, and quality of healthcare -- the Index places the Swiss in the number-one spot. Thanks to the Santésuisse system, the Swiss have the lowest government spending on health care in the developed world -- and some of the healthiest citizens.

"The Swiss have universal coverage, the healthiest population in the Western Hemisphere, and a government that spends a mere 2.7 percent of GDP on health care: about a third of what ours spends," writes Forbes's Avik Roy. "The Swiss system isn’t perfectly transposable onto the United States, but it is vastly superior. And the Swiss do it with a top federal income tax rate of only 11.5 percent, compared to 35 percent in the U.S. of A."

Their people are not only healthy, but happy.

Switzerland was ranked the world's third happiest country in the UN's 2013 World Happiness Report, and it was also rated among the countries with the highest levels of well-being on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s Better Life Index 2013.

Switzerland has the eighth-lowest rate of depression in the world, which may have a sizeable impact on the workforce and economy. Depression is ranked as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to World Health Organization estimates, mental health illnesses costs developed countries 3-4 percent of annual GNP. There is one area, however, where significant improvement is needed: Switzerland came in 64th out of 122 countries in terms of stress levels.

They invest in top-notch education.

According to the OECD Better Life Index, 86 percent of adults aged 25-64 in Switzerland have earned the equivalent of a high school degree, which is higher than the global OECD average of 74 percent, and the Swiss also have higher average test scores in literacy, math and science.

"Not all rich countries have what has been rated by business leaders as very high-quality education," Zahidi explains. "If you look at Switzerland, the quality of management schools is number-one in the world, the quality of math and science education is number-five in the world, and the quality of primary schools is also number-one. For Internet access in schools, they're number seven in the world."

They care about talent and innovation.

Switzerland comes in first in the world for innovation, on-the-job staff training, attracting talent from elsewhere, and for government-provided training. The Swiss are number two for pay being relating to productivity, and number-three for retaining their own talent, according to the Index.

"They've created the right environment for people to start their own businesses," says Zahidi. "And for their intellectual and physical property to be protected."

Case in point: 99 percent of the Swiss economy is comprised of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), which also represent 75 percent of the workforce.

They've created an environment where people can thrive.

In addition to investing in their human capital, the Swiss have created a system that allows people and companies to leverage that capital. This includes ease of transportation and Internet connectivity.

The Swiss Institute for Management Development explains the Swiss have followed the "golden rules of competitiveness." As Stéphane Garelli of the Institute told The New York Times in May, these rules are: “Manufacture, diversify, export, invest in infrastructure, educate, support small and medium enterprises, enforce fiscal discipline, and above all maintain social cohesion.”

The World Economic Forum's goal is to bring the lessons of what the Swiss do well to other nations to promote better investment in human capital globally.

"Each country's story is somewhat unique and there are learnings to be had across various countries," says Zahidi. "For us, the next step is going to be, can we try to have cross-country learning? Are there best practices in certain countries that can be transferred to others?"

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