Extra Holidays, Extra Staff Satisfaction, Extra Productivity

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

When I first moved to Sweden, I was taken aback by the way the country basically closes down for the summer. For five to six weeks, many workplaces shut, and employees head off to their cabins in the forest or along the coast. People move to a slower pace of life, with an emphasis on being together, eating good food and enjoying nature. From my American perspective, I couldn’t understand it. Wasn’t working long hours and making lots of money the most important aspect of a workplace? How could you be dedicated to your job if you went swimming all summer long? I was used to the concept of having a two-week summer vacation at most in the US and I thought that this protestant, capitalist focus on working hard throughout the year was what made society successful.

However, living in Sweden helped me realise that far from being a hindrance to a growing economy and personally satisfying careers, long breaks actually contributed to just those things. People benefit from having a significant chunk of time to rest and refresh. Their moods improve from spending the long sunny days (and long sunny nights – Sweden is quite far north, after all, and the midnight sun is a reality there) with their friends and family and devoting attention to their hobbies and passions. In mid-August, they return to work feeling revitalised and energetic, and are able to dive back into their tasks with a renewed sense of purpose and pleasure.

I began to adapt my work schedule to the Swedish one, enjoying not just the long summer break, but also the “sports holiday” in February (when many people go skiing), and more extensive periods off of work at other points in the year too. Another surprising aspect of the workplace there was the fact that people came to work at 8.30 or 9 am (not earlier), took one or two extended coffee-and-pastry breaks (the infamous “fika”) each day to chat with their colleagues, got plenty of things done, and still clocked off on time, without bringing work home with them. Sure, there were some obsessive workers, but they were viewed with some suspicion. In fact, someone once described me as “industrious”, and he meant it in a pejorative sense, because he thought I worked more than a good Swede should. The norm there was a careful work-life balance, where it was implicitly understood that time away from work contributed to people’s mental well-being, which in turn ultimately benefitted the workplace.

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