Relocation assistance and visa sponsorship, plane tickets reimbursement for the whole family, €1,000 settlement bonus, purchase of professional equipment within €2,000, gym membership, 25 days of annual leave, health and life insurance… Does it sound like a dream to you? In fact, these are typical conditions offered by tech companies in Stockholm.
Let’s dig deeper to learn more about workplace culture and working conditions in Sweden.
Many newcomers in Sweden notice that the workplace atmosphere in the country is very relaxed, and emotional conflicts are rare. “Stressa inte för mycket” (“Do not stress too much”) is one of Swedes’ favorite sayings.
In Sweden, colleagues address each other in a casual way, and everyone is on a first-name basis. Greet your boss with “God morgon, Sven!” (Good morning, Sven!) or “Hej Britt-Marie!” (Hello, Britt-Marie!). If you speak Swedish, use “du” (“you”) with everyone — except maybe the members of the Swedish royal family.
Work clothing in Swedish offices is usually casual. For example, employees may wear tennis shoes or sandals, a polo shirt, pullover, pair of jeans or a dress.
There are fewer hierarchies and organization layers compared to many other countries, and fewer people tell you what to do. It means that managing directors in Swedish firms are usually more available to their employees, and this eliminates some of the chain-of-command arrangements that exist in other countries. And as the initiative is noticed and encouraged, workers can normally take their questions, comments or concerns directly to the boss.
Swedish way of working
Sweden is a country of instructions. For example, before starting a new project in an IT company, you will spend up to 80% of the time discussing the project with your colleagues, clarifying all the nuances, and describing every step of the project specifying deadlines.
Some newcomers complain that software development can drag on for months in Sweden. A small-scale project, which can be released within 30 days somewhere else, can take more than 8 months to be released in Sweden. It’s not because the management is poor or the team is unprofessional — it's just the way the pace of work in Sweden is, with a scrutinous structuring and consistent approach to the development process.
A slower pace of work doesn’t mean Swedes love to procrastinate and to do lazy talking. Quite the opposite: Sweden is one of the top 10 European countries by productivity. Careful planning allows them to deliver great results and high-quality work.
Another important characteristic of the Swedish way of working is lagom. It means “just the right amount” in Swedish. Employees tend to focus on doing exactly what’s needed and doing it well, rather than doing unnecessary things. If you’re told to spend “a lagom amount” of time on a particular task, it means a sufficient amount of time, not too much and not too little, however vague this may sound.
Swedish workers also tend to rely on consensus and compromise when it comes to reaching solutions and making decisions. Many local employees often feel that it’s unnecessary to stand out in a crowd or be the one who makes a choice for the entire company. This can lead to decisions taking more time to be made.
Sweden is known for a good work-life balance. In fact, this country ranks 5th among countries with the least working hours among OECD countries (after Denmark, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands). The average Swede works 1,452 hours per year, which is well below the OECD average of 1,726 hours.
By Swedish law, regular working time may not exceed 40 hours per week. And an actual working week amounts to about 30 hours on average, according to Statista. However, this may vary depending on the specific employer. In many Swedish companies, people spend 9 hours at work when doing full time, with breaks not included in working hours.
Swedes tend to start working early in the morning. The typical working day is from 8–9 am to 5 pm. As a rule, people start to disperse at about 4:30 pm. Note that punctuality is very important for Swedes. So show up on time, stick to your agenda, and finish your work on time.
Another general advice: don’t try to work overtime too often just to impress your employer — it will only tell them that you can’t manage your workload. It also increases the risk for the company that you could burn out, have more days of sick leave, and feel less satisfied with your current job.
By law, an employee may work overtime up to a maximum of 48 hours over 4 weeks, or 50 hours over a calendar month, with a maximum of 200 hours over a calendar year.
Coffee breaks are an extremely important part of the Swedish work culture. A break taken from work to chat and drink coffee with something sweet is called “fika”. There are usually one or two every day lasting 10–15 minutes each, so don’t be surprised if your coworkers are suddenly unavailable as they take a little coffee break.
Some companies have a formal fika (for example, every day at 9 am and 3 pm), while others treat the custom a bit more casually.
Fika is a great opportunity to take a break from the constant stress of work, have a chat with someone about life, and speak to colleagues outside of formal meetings.
Rest periods and holidays
By law, all employees in Sweden are entitled to a minimum rest period of 11 consecutive hours in any 24 hours. The daily rest period should include the hours between midnight and 5 am.
Employees are also entitled to a minimum uninterrupted rest period of 36 hours per every 7 days. The weekly rest is normally scheduled for weekends.
In addition, there are 17 public holidays (paid days off) in Sweden: New Year’s Day (January 1), Epiphany (January 6), Good Friday, Easter Eve, Easter, First of May, Ascension Day, Whitsun Eve, Whitsunday, National Day (June 6), Midsummer Eve, Midsummer Day (June 20), All Saints’ Day (October 31), Christmas Eve, Christmas (December 25), Boxing Day (December 26), and New Year’s Eve (December 31).
Many workplaces offer a day in lieu when public holidays coincide with a weekend. Others also give employees a “klämdag” (a “squeeze day”). It means that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, you also get the Monday or Friday off to extend the weekend.
On top of that, many workplaces close at midday the day before certain holidays (like New Year’s Eve or Easter Eve). It depends on specific company policy, so check exactly what applies to you.
If you have a collective agreement (kollektivavtal) or a similar work agreement, you may have more holidays. A collective agreement is an agreement between the trade union and the employers.
To show their love to the community, some companies also offer one paid day a year to be used for community or charity purposes.
Annual and sick leaves
All employees in Sweden get 25 days of paid annual leave (5 working days × 5 weeks). Of those, 20 days can be taken consecutively during the summer months of June, July, and August, although this isn’t a must.
The so-called holiday year runs from April 1 of the current year to March 31 of the next year. Each year, you earn the holiday days for the following year. Your 25 new holiday days come into effect every April 1.
If you begin work after August 31, you are only entitled to 5 unpaid vacation days until the following April 1. Then, during your first full holiday year, the number of paid days you’re entitled to is calculated based on what proportion of the holiday year you spent working. If you’ve worked for the entire year, you’ll get 25 paid holiday days, but if you’ve worked for only half the year, you’ll only get half that amount.
Traditionally, most Swedes have their time off in July. During this month, the whole of Sweden seems to go on holiday. Some stores and even some hospitals and police stations shut down in July. Many Swedes escape to their summer houses in the archipelago to enjoy the very few weeks when it’s warm and sunny.
If you get ill and are unable to work, you can get sick pay and a sickness benefit. You can apply for a sickness benefit to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan). Some employers pay you sick pay instead of your regular salary for the first 14 days you’re sick. You can receive about 80% of your salary, but this is capped to SEK 804 per day.
Another good thing is that Sweden is a family-friendly country with strong social benefits and one of the best places to raise a child. For example, as a parent, you’re entitled to:
- 10 days upon the birth of a child — for both mothers and fathers. There’s also a compensation amounting to 80% of the salary.
- Right to work part-time (75% or more) if you’re a parent of children aged 8 and under.
- 480 days of paid leave for every child under the age of 8. To be entitled to this paid leave, you need to have worked in Sweden for at least 6 months. Of the 480 days, 60 days are reserved for each parent. Parental allowance is 80% of salary amounts to a maximum of SEK 473,000 and is paid by the social security system.
- Compensation for lost income if you miss work to take care of a sick child aged 8 months to 12 years — for a maximum of 120 days per year.
Starting and ending employment
Before you start a new job in Sweden, you usually agree to a trial period. It can be as long as 6 months. After that, you or your employer may terminate the contract without providing any specific reasons or transform the probationary employment contract into a regular one.
As for dismissals, it’s rather hard to fire anyone in Sweden. Trade unions have tremendous power in this country, so when somebody is suddenly fired, they can defend their rights and, theoretically, get back to work.
Generally, you can only be definitively fired for gross misconduct, in other words, when you did something really bad on purpose. However, there can also be personal grounds for dismissal or circumstances related to the employee personally.
If you’ve been dismissed for personal grounds, your employer must give you a notice at least 14 days before you’re dismissed. And if you’re fired for gross misconduct, the notice period is only 7 days.
If you’re fired, there’s one good thing: you will receive up to 80% of your previous salary (a maximum of SEK 20,000 per month) as an unemployment benefit if you’re covered by unemployment insurance. It will support you until you find a new job. To be eligible for unemployment insurance, you must have been working in Sweden for at least 6 months during the last 12 months.
Swedish workplace culture may be different from that of the other countries. But you can be sure to find many upsides and growth opportunities there.