• Corporate Culture
  • Working Families
  • Work/Life Balance

Stop and smell the coffee!

I know a lot of Swedes, my husband being one of them - and of course my favourite. Over the years I have seen the wisdom and benefits of many aspects of Swedish culture. There is a notable exception of course: the tradition of watching (re-watching) the same Disney special every Christmas Day (why, oh why?)

I love the sense of order (if I had a kronor for every time I’ve heard, “In Sweden we have a system for that…”) and simplicity (resulting doubtless from the order, but also inherent in interior design). There are some lovely customs: when my in-laws said “tack for idag” (thanks for today) after I said goodnight, I first thought I’d literally made their day – but soon learned it is quite usual for people to thank each other for their company on a daily basis.

But one of the most notable Swede-tells is the coffee drinking. Look at any table of global coffee consumption and the Swedes will be right up there somewhere at the top. They typically like it strong (take any idea you have of strong coffee and double it, then you’ll be nearly there) – but most of all they like it frequent (and at regular times, since, well, in Sweden we have a system for that). And here’s the thing – they don’t just drink it on the go at their desk or rushing between appointments, they accord it due ceremony, enjoying it when possible with a nice bun and with friends or colleagues.

Yes, colleagues, that’s the reason I’m writing about it here. Twice a day most workplaces will have a break for “fika” – possibly even in a fika room, although any room will do. Everyone, regardless of role or seniority, will gather together for a coffee and a cake or biscuit. It is expected to participate – you won’t get points for staying at your desk and looking busy – it is part of being a colleague and part of the team. Fika is the drink, the snack, the company, and the conversation. It’s a wonderful opportunity to recharge, to connect with others, and simply to have a chat and share stories with each other.

We see each year in The Modern Families Index (MFI) depressing statistics about mothers and fathers not feeling able to be open about their family circumstances with their managers (fathers especially, leading to some feeling the need to fake sickness in order to take time off for a family emergency or school sports day). And we’re seeing this even more regarding caring responsibilities for adults: photos of babies and children are often displayed on desks but rarely pictures of elderly parents and grandparents, many working carers are unidentified and unsupported by their employers. I’d argue that the daily fika would be a more comfortable place to begin a conversation about work-life balance and caring for loved ones than the boss’s office or board room.

You might ask, in a deadline-driven, fast-paced world who has time for fika? Doesn’t it damage productivity? Well the productivity of a stressed, burned out employee – or one looking to downshift or change jobs in order to have time for family life – is not going to be the best. Studies show that employees whose employers see them as people rather than assets, enjoy the benefits of reduced staff churn, and higher engagement. I’m not saying sitting down to coffee twice a day is the only way – but ensuring your company culture is one where it’s ok to ask for help, or to talk about caring responsibilities, is key. The bun can be the icing on the cake!

Deb Ejenas, Communications Manager, Bright Horizons

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