Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work

Work life in Sweden has long been centered around fika, a ritual where colleagues put away phones, laptops, and shoptalk to commune over coffee, pastries, or other snacks. Swedish employees and their managers believe that this cultural tradition helps drive employee well-being, productivity, and innovation by clearing the mind and fostering togetherness. As bosses and workers elsewhere try to reinvigorate office life and flagging job satisfaction, fika fascination is seeping into other workplaces.

The Grand, a New York-based career and leadership coaching platform, summons its all-remote staff of 10 every other Friday for coffee and conversation over Zoom. London-based Hubble, a website for finding flexible workspaces, took up the tradition after being introduced to it by a Swedish staff member. A recent product offering for part-time office space with new contract terms sprang from a discussion that took place during fika, says chief of staff Charlie Bastier. It’s now one of the fastest-growing revenue streams, he says.

The pressure to make tweaks to the daily ritual is particularly acute in the U.S. Employees continue to report feeling less engaged in their jobs than in pre-pandemic times, Gallup data show. In addition, bonding with colleagues has become harder and less of a priority for many people in the hybrid world of work. Some employers worry the lack of social cohesion is harming company culture and operations.

At The Grand’s regular fika, staffers take turns hosting, leading with casual conversation or a board game such as Code Names or a drawing competition. The Grand’s co-founder Rei Wang says that fika allows her to spend time with her staff, making her a better leader.

Pronounced “fee-kah,” the Swedish culture of breaking for coffee involves much more than a schlep to Starbucks. It’s meant to be a deliberate pause to provide space and time for people to connect. Many Swedish companies build a mandatory fika into the workday, while the Embassy of Sweden in Washington holds one for staff weekly. IKEA, promoting its Upphetta coffee maker on the corporate website, extols the virtues of fika: “When we disconnect for a short period, our productivity increases significantly.”

Dahlen suspects a pandemic-era drop in office fikas contributed to a sharp decline in Swedes’ happiness at work. Just over half of workers in Sweden reported a high level of job satisfaction in 2022, according to Eurostat, compared with 69.5% in 2017.

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