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Working and socializing with Swedes can be challenging. There are many positives to working in Sweden and with Swedes, however there are some aspects that can be difficult to get used to. Here are five of the more challenging issues that international managers face when working in a Swedish environment.
Although Swedes work hard and with dedication, they do not think their jobs define them. People tend to have a healthy work-life balance, and a sense of themselves that is broader than whatever it is they do to make money.
Lack of drive
Swedes are naturally motivated to develop skills, improve their performance and climb the company ladder, but many also strongly prioritize a healthy work-life balance. It is important to do a good job but position, status and money is not necessarily the main priority. Basically – they “work to live, not live to work” and work-life balance is important for Swedes because quality time spent with family and friends tend to reflect positively on their working lives. This can be difficult to understand and get used to for people from other cultures.
Swedes prefer to avoid conflict. When faced with a question such as “what do you think?”, Swedes can feel nervous and in the spotlight. This means that finding a way to get a direct opinion can be challenging for an international manager.
Meetings are commonplace in the Swedish working environment. And as an international manager, the constant meetings can feel like a waste of time. However, meetings are necessary in a Swedish work place in order to involve, inform and make co-workers part of a project and the work force.
The importance of consensus in a Swedish workplace can simply not be stressed enough and is considered vital for the successful development of a project. However, this practice is often time consuming and therefore considered highly impractical by international managers.
Slow decision-making progress
Managers are usually under time pressure to make decisions, bring change and get results. In the Swedish working environment, however this can sometimes be a bit challenging. Fear of conflict, the need for consensus and the many meetings and can be very frustrating for international managers.
But is it all bad?
I do not deny that Swedish work environments can at times be frustrating but there are also a nice number of benefits to remember. Because a good work-life balance is important in Sweden, the government has brought forward a number of initiatives to help workers spend more time with their loved ones instead of in the office. Something that you as a newbie or international manager also will benefit from.
- Parental leave is designed to encourage both parents to stay at home when a baby is born.
- You have the right to take five weeks of holiday per year, with the majority of Swedes taking their holiday between June and August (it’s usual for a Swedish employee to take four consecutive weeks off).
- Coffee breaks are common.
- It is usual for workers to be able to work from home.
- Working overtime is not encouraged, so it’s rare you’ll find any Swedes in the office after 5:00pm.
But what does this really mean? Well, the attitude to work and emphasis on free time means that Sweden is often considered one of the best countries in which to start and raise a family. And it is one of the reasons why Sweden consistently ranks very highly in Expat Insider Surveys in the work-life balance category, especially relating to respondents’ overall happiness.
So when your frustration is rising, just remember to breathe, that work is not everything and if all that fails, send me an email so we can discuss strategies to cope with the reality of Swedish work environments.
About the author
Hello! I am a Swedish language consultant and cross-cultural trainer who has many years of experience working with expat clients in Sweden. My professional focus continues to be teaching Swedish with a cross-cultural approach and supporting international clients in their adaptation to the Swedish culture.