As the big day finally arrives, and you are about to start your first day, there is one important thing to bear in mind: show up on time. According to the Swedish definition of politeness and professionalism, it is extremely rude to make someone wait for you. As you will discover, time management is a central part of Swedish work culture, so in order to make a good impression, do prioritize this factor and you have done half the job.
The second thing to be aware of is Swedish fika culture. Fika, if you haven’t already heard of it, is a cup of coffee, and if you are lucky something sweet. This is just a pretext for socialising without too much commitment. If you come from a culture where there is a strong emphasis on delivering results, you may see fika as a waste of your time. However, in the context of Swedish work culture, where consensus is highly regarded, fika is an excellent way of building professional connections. Your new colleagues will be disappointed if you don’t join them for fika breaks, so do consider those as an investment in your future career.
The third thing to be aware of is that due to Sweden’s flat organizations, you are expected to manage yourself and take initiative. It may of course take some time before you have grown into your role and know exactly what needs to be done, but don’t fall into the trap of seeming obedient on your first day. Ask many questions, approach the people you’ll need to work with, and feel confident that they hired you for who you are. Good luck!
What to expect from your first day at work
- Tour of the office. Your manager or a close colleague of yours is likely to introduce you to everyone in your team, department, or company, dependent on the size of the overall organization. You are expected to shake everyone’s hands (in non-pandemic times) and make a few cheerful comments or ask some basic questions about their work.
- Introduction meeting with your management or team. This will give you some basic information about your position, your colleagues and team members, your tasks, and current projects. This is also your opportunity to find out more about what is expected from you right now, as you might find such information scarce.
- Fika. If you have never heard of Swedish coffee break culture, it is never too late to embrace fika. Sitting down with your colleagues for a cup of coffee and a chat is your best investment in good professional relationships and your future career. If you are not a coffee drinker, have some tea, a piece of fruit, or even a glass of water.
- Lunch. Your manager or your colleagues are will make sure you are not alone for lunch. They might take you out to a restaurant (but be prepared to pay for your own lunch) or show you where you can buy a take out to join the rest of your colleagues in the office kitchen. Like fika, it is bad manners not to join others when sitting down for food and drink, so do take up this offer.
- Technical setup. You will probably be given a desktop computer, a phone, a login, and an email account. This normally requires some setup, which you are expected to care of yourself, in most cases. This is a great opportunity for you to show that you’re an autonomous and digitally proficient professional, qualities that Swedes like.
- Book meetings. Your new colleagues may start booking meetings with you, but you are also expected to take initiative for this yourself. Identify key individuals and approach them to book an introductory meeting.
- Get started. In the afternoon, your colleagues and your manager may give you some time on your own to get started. If you have previously worked in more hierarchical cultures, you may feel at a loss, as you haven’t received any detailed instructions on what to do. Do what a Swede would do: plan things. Map your team, make sure you have everyone’s contact details, prepare for your meetings.
It’s not you, they’re just being Swedish
In general, you should be prepared for your Swedish colleagues not to appear to be particularly interested in you. This is not because they don’t like you, or anything similar; this is because Swedes find it extremely important to protect others’ privacy. They will also take for granted that you will work autonomously and take initiative, and they would find it rude on their part to give you detailed instructions or check your work, as this (from a Swedish point of view) could be interpreted as them not trusting your competence.
On your first day, your manager will usually ask you to come in at a certain time, for example, at nine o’clock. This is typically later than what is expected from you in the long run, so on the second day, you should aim for eight o’clock or no later than half-past eight if you are in a typical office environment.