Is this the sweet secret to Swedish success?

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Source: BBC

In Sweden, it’s obligatory to eat coffee and cake. No, really.

At many companies it’s mandatory for all workers, from Malmo to Stockholm, to have a designated time during the day to sit down and do fika.

Fika — which roughly translates from Swedish as drinking coffee, munching sweet treats and chatting — is as much a part of the working day in Sweden as emailing and fixing the printer.

It’s like going to the pub in other countries.

“It’s deeply ingrained in our culture.” said Matts Johansson, founder of Da Matteo, a coffee chain based in Gothenburg. “Most Swedes have fika several times a day, whether it’s at the weekend or during the week. It’s about spending time with people, eating lovely homemade baked goods and drinking great coffee. It’s like going to the pub in other countries.”

Many Swedish firms have mandatory fika breaks and employees are given free hot drinks. But do all these regular chat breaks make for a more efficient workforce?

(Credit:Flickr/Andreas Ivarsson/CC BY 2.0)

Sweet treats and coffee are a fika staple (Credit:Flickr/Andreas Ivarsson/CC BY 2.0)

There isn’t a caffeine index as such, but the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) does publish productivity data.

Analysing productivity by employee in 38 countries, 2014 data reveal Sweden comes in at a respectable number 11. Sweden’s coffee-quaffing neighbour Norway is the second most productive nation, behind champs Luxembourg, while the workhorses of the US are fourth. Long-lunching France is seventh — far ahead of Japan (20th) and Korea (30th), two countries known for long work hours.

Going global

Coffee breaks are so important to the Swedish that even the country’s mega-brand, Ikea,has a paragraph about on its corporate website: “More than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues. Some of the best ideas and decisions happen at fika.”

Andreas Astrom, from the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

“Swedish management style differs to most other countries. It’s flat and not very hierarchical,” Astrom said. “When you have flat structures it’s important to listen to everyone and through the communal nature of fika, chatting between employees and management is encouraged. It’s a great way to get everyone’s views on how companies are run.”

If I can do this right, I can be another Richard Branson, become a fika billionaire.

And more recently, the trend has gone global. These days the aspirational, affluent, New Yorker, Londoner or Sydney-sider doesn’t just pop out of the office for coffee — they might sneak 15 minutes and go for fika. It’s less about grabbing a shot of caffeine on the go and more about scheduling pauses in to the day.

Lars Akerlund has built a business empire on fika. He relocated to New York City from Sweden in 2001, opening his first cafe, FIKA, near Central Park in 2006. He now has 17 cafes with another two on the way. One of the most popular menu items is a coffee and home-made cake or chocolate. It’s something that lends itself to savouring rather than devouring on the hop. So what inspired his burgeoning empire?

“I loved New York but when I moved here, outside the chain stores I couldn’t find a good coffee. The West Coast was full of great places for an espresso, so I knew there was potential. I saw a huge gap in the market and I thought, if I can do this right, I can be another Richard Branson, become a fika billionaire.”

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