When you hear the word business culture, does your mind go to business deals, people in suits, contracts and money transfers? Mine does. But business culture is much more. It is also about relationships with coworkers and bosses, interactions with clients and how to create a smooth work day.
If you have worked for a while, you probably think you know enough about business culture and behavior. And you are probably right. But the kicker is, that business culture varies between countries and cultures. So if you are new or newish in Sweden, chances are your knowledge of business culture may need a tune up to work in a Swedish working environment. But no stress, let’s go through a few pieces of information about business culture, etiquette and behavior.
Workplaces are (usually) very informal
A while back, I was having a problem with a project which I brought to my bosses bosses boss. She in turn told me that I had to bring it to her boss – meaning my bosses bosses bosses boss. His calendar was booked solid for the next two months, but she told me to message him on Skype. So a few days later after I’ve kept tabs on his Skype, I started a conversation saying, “Hej Micke do you have 5 minutes?”.
Now as you can probably tell by the fact that I had to go up so many steps in the food chain, that work place did not a flat hierarchy. But it was still an informal work place and it is important to keep the distinction in mind.
So as a general rule, adress your coworkers and bosses by their first name and avoid using the Swedish equivalents of Mr, Miss or Mrs.
It is all about the meetings
Consensus is a big thing in Sweden which in turn means that Sweden has a very strong meeting culture – which does not mean a strong meeting style. In fact many meetings do not lead to decisions. Instead everyone gets to have a go and voice their opinions and sometimes people are in the meeting who may just be borderline involved in the topic.
You can expect to be scheduled for information meetings, planning meetings, organisational meetings and follow-up meetings before ever getting to decision making meetings.
This in turn leads to long decision processes as consensus building is a time-consuming process. Many meetings are arranged to keep everyone informed, to seek their opinions, to discuss and to provide feedback from other people’s meetings. Don’t expect any quick decisions or results. However, once the decision is made, it will be rooted in the organisation and most issues have been taken care of before the decision is made.
A few other pointers about meetings that can be good to know:
- During meetings, Swedes usually get right down to the topic at hand after brief polite chit chat.
- Agendas are common and set with the meetings stated purpose.
- Presentations are often used and sent out to the meeting participants.
Work/life balance is serious business
A few years ago a friend of mine was working at a law firm in Stockholm. When the law firm was bought up by an American company, the new management offered all staff the opportunity to transfer to the American offices. A month or so later, the new management announced their surprise that not a single employee had taken the opportunity. It turned out that as most of the staff had families with kids they were not interested in a transfer. Mainly because they felt it would mean long work hours, short vacations and expensive child care and health care.
The staff at that law firm may have been right or wrong in their assumptions on work life in the United States. But the point is that Swedes value the life/work balance that is an ingrained part of Swedish business culture. So much that they may actually turn down jobs with higher salaries, work advancements and better weather.
Working overtime on a regular basis for instance is often not appreciated and could instead be seen as lack of competence or organizational skills.
You will also not win prizes for not taking your annual leave. In fact you may instead get a talk from HR. Full time employees in Sweden have the legal right to 25 days vacation and you are expected to use those vacation days and be rested and productive when you come back. You must, however, plan your work around your and your coworkers holidays.
Want to learn more?
So, now you have learnt some basic and very important knowledge on Swedish business culture and behavior. Want more specific tips on how to succeed in a Swedish workplace? Then check out the online course “A guide to Swedish business culture and behavior“. It is produced by Annmarie Palm, an expert in the development of work relationships and communication.
The course contains videos and instructional text on for instance availability, meeting behavior, reconnecting, follow-up.
And finally, what is your experience on Swedish business culture and behavior? Let us know in the comments.