Summer is upon us and soon enough most of the Swedish working force will be parking their work tools and computers in their desks for 4 or 5 weeks – the summer vacation.
After midsummer and for the whole month of July the tempo all over the country changes. Many workplaces become empty, services get slower if open at all, and many cities decrease in population while small coastal towns peak during these weeks. It’s summertime!
Historical background and your rights
The first vacation law in Sweden dates to 1938 (turning 85 years old this year!) and gave the workers a full 2 weeks of paid vacation. In 1963 this was increased to 4 weeks and 10 years later to the current 5 weeks of vacation (you can read the whole text here). That is a full 25 days of paid vacation as a minimum for full-time workers. Depending on the workplace and its contract with the union, kollektivavtal, an employee might get more vacation days than that.
Good to know
When to take vacation – Most people get to choose when to take their vacation, but the rule of thumb says that you should take at least 20 days off during June – July. This may, however, vary from workplace to workplace. For instance, in my own workplace, this period has been extended from May to August.
Sickness during vacation – If you get sick during your vacation, the days you are sick should not count as vacation. This must be reported by the employee and the vacation days can be used later during the year.
Saving vacation days – Employees with more than 20 vacation days (working full time and for the most part of the year) have the right to save 5 vacation days for the year after. Other rules might apply as well, on how fast you are supposed to use your saved vacation and how many saved days you can have.
Vacation-salary increase – During your vacation, you have the right to a small increase in your salary, so-called vacation salary or semesterlön in Swedish. This can be counted in different ways, but it must be paid within a month of your vacation.
You can find other frequently asked questions related to vacation in this page (in Swedish).
Age as a bonus – Some Swedish employers prize their more experienced employees with extra vacation days. In my workplace, one gets 31 days when turning 30 and 35 days when turning 40. Sounds good to me!
Compensation days – in some workplaces you can get some extra days off, that you can use connected with another day off, as the day before midsummer eve, or a Friday/Monday in between a weekend and a red day.
Shorter working times in the summer – there are workplaces that shorten their working hours during summertime. These might be rare nowadays, but there are still a few cases where people work 7 hours a day during June and July (if not on vacation).
The foundation of the Swedish summer vacation is a good work/life balance. This is a well-discussed subject in Swedish workplaces, and you might even fill in a survey every year, used by the management to get an overview of the company’s work environment.
Although, it is not very clear where this habit of taking a very long summer vacation started. Since summer in Sweden is relatively short, weather-wise, that might have led to the habit of a long summer vacation. Some claim that this is the only way to fully relax and completely disconnect from work, but the few existing studies on the subject have not been able to prove this. The opposite has been pointed out by for instance Jessica de Bloom, who found out that the vacation good feeling disappears within two weeks of work. This means it is probably better to have a few shorter vacation spread throughout the year.
The truth is that the subject has not been studied very deeply, probably because to be able to do it, the researcher would have to NOT take their own summer vacation and that’s something unthinkable in Sweden.
What if I prefer a shorter vacation?
Most Swedes do take a long summer vacation, but not all. The ability to disconnect from work is very individual and some people prefer to take shorter vacations, multiple times during the year. It might feel stressful at the end of a vacation to think that it will take a whole year until your next vacation. Or maybe after 2 or 3 weeks of vacation, the days get boring and resting gives way to a restless mood instead.
I find myself in this category and I usually save a few days to spend in the autumn, when work is more intensive, the days shorter, and without any days off (red days). That way I always have something to look forward to at the end of the summer.
If it’s not clear that you are allowed to do this in your workplace, go ahead and talk to your employer. Most of them are open to different options, although it depends a lot on the type of work you do.
What to do with this long vacation?
That’s a question one might wonder – what to do with all this time?
Valuable time at home – How Swedes divide their vacation time varies widely. I would guess that most spend at least some days at home, maybe fixing things, re-organizing, cleaning that little extra or simply spending time with the family.
Daily trips – Swedish lakes and beaches are quite popular during the summer, especially when the weather is good. Reading, bathing, and sunbathing are my favourite activities. Eating ice cream is also quite popular!
Summer cottage – many Swedes own cottages or summer houses, sometimes passed on from generation to generation. Gathering the whole family in a countryside house is not uncommon, especially for families living apart who might not see each other often during the year.
Cycling – active vacation is another favourite of many Swedes. You might have already seen people passing by on their bikes fully packed with bags. This is a fun way to travel and see new places. I have myself turned to one of them and have cycled most of the west coast on my summer vacation. You can read about it here.
Hiking – forests and mountains are full of cosy trails and beautiful views. Hiking is slow, relaxing and usually includes a lot of fika, which sounds like a pretty good summer vacation. Sweden is full of well-marked and organized trails and one can even sleep in small cosy cottages along the way. Check here for more information.
Abroad – there is also a part of the population who chooses to travel abroad. It might be to visit relatives or simply to explore new places. Although going abroad is popular, it might not be that popular in the summer when the weather is actually decent in Sweden.
Tips for a successful summer vacation
Do not have too high expectations
Many people make plans to do all the things they haven’t had the time for during the year. They want to deep clean the whole apartment, re-organize the pantry, paint a wall, train every day, and visit friends on the other side of the country. At the same time, they also want to lay by the lake, read a book and relax. You see the problem here right… 5 weeks feel long, but if we make plans that would take 9 weeks, we will be disappointed at the end.
Don’t demand too much of yourself during your vacation. We are supposed to do things slower, so do leave your super-efficient self on the shelf for a little while.
A good trick can be to set a day of the week to work on things. Or a part of the day. For instance, every Tuesday I’ll work on the cleaning. Or every morning I’ll do a 30-minute workout because then I’m done and can enjoy the rest of the day.
Find your own balance
Spending entire days without goals or ideas can be just as stressful as being at work. Find activities you want to do and fill your vacation days with fun things. If you are the kind that could spend the whole vacation on a sun chair looking at the sky, you might find out that you enjoy that even more if you take breaks for doing something else. Visit a museum, go for a walk in a new place, rent a bicycle and explore a pristine beach. If on the other side, you prefer an active vacation and enjoy being on the move the whole time, break that with a day or two of stillness. Or maybe balance an active morning with a lazy afternoon occasionally. Balance is the keyword here.
Be physically active
It is no secret that physical activity is beneficial for our body and mind. On vacation, we have more available hours during the day, which means there’s time for both being physically active and relaxing. You can be active in many kinds of ways, and you should definitely choose an activity that makes you happy. Take walks with friends. Dance with your kids. Play with your dog. Go for a swim. Play ball on the beach. Move!
If you lay down on a chair every day of your vacation, you will most likely not remember it afterwards.
Do at least one memorable thing this summer. It doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming, just memorable for you so that when you look back to 2023 you remember it. Perhaps it’s the summer when you finally made a picnic in that park. Or when you visited that open-air museum outside of the city that somehow, you missed for years. Or maybe the summer you finally dared to swim in the dark waters of a Swedish lake. Your choice! How would you like to remember this summer in 10 years?
Whichever type of vacation you prefer, the important is to use it wisely, take time for yourself and disconnect properly. Turn off your job muscles and do something completely different.
And most of all, enjoy your summer!