10 quirks and perks of Sweden’s famously casual offices

Sweden’s a funny old place. Even if, to the casual observer, it looks like any other European country.

10 quirks and perks of Sweden's famously casual offices
Photo: Ivanko80/Shutterstock

After all, (other than appearing disarmingly healthy) the Swedes look remarkably like the rest of us. And thanks to Swedish clothing giant H&M, much of the known world can now dress almost identically. The language too, while tough to master, isn’t vastly dissimilar from other Germanic tongues.

But in the workplace, it becomes most apparent that Swedes’ (perhaps not so) little cultural nuances rule. And unless you want to risk a serious fadäs (Swedish for faux-pas) — like being audacious enough to take the last slice of cake when you fika with colleagues — you should really get clued up on their workplace quirks and perks they sometimes keep to themselves.

Protect your income. Click here to join A-kassa, Sweden's unemployment insurance fund

1. Suits you, sir

Much to the delight of people who prefer sneakers to suits, the Swedish professional dress code is fairly casual. After all, this is a country where it’s basically winter six months of the year and smart office wear offers little protection against the elements!

2. Let’s meet on week 48

“Shall we meet on Wednesday the 27th?”

“Actually, week 48 is better for me.”

Dates are far too straightforward. Who wants to agree to a time that everyone can quickly mark in their calendars when you could lump several days together and confuse everyone who doesn’t know week 8 from 30? Not the Swedes, no siree.

3. Time to fika about

While extended coffee breaks may bring stern looks or straight up reprimands in some countries, in Sweden they’re actively encouraged. In fact, the more coffee, the merrier!

Fika, or grabbing a coffee and cake with colleagues, is even mandatory in some workplaces with designated fika time scheduled during the day. It’s been proven to increase productivity and happiness at work, so they must be onto something.

4. A-kassa

You wouldn’t go on vacation without taking out travel insurance, or drive your car without vehicle insurance — so why would you work without protecting your income? It seems so obvious, yet you probably hadn’t thought about it until you moved to Sweden.

That’s the rationale behind arbetslöshetskassa, or a-kassa for short. It’s an unemployment insurance fund that pays up to 80 percent of your salary if you find yourself out of work.

If you have a bachelor’s degree,the simplest and most affordable option is Akademikernas a-kassa, which is specifically for employees with higher education.

Learn more about it here or read Seven reasons you should join Akademikernas a-kassa.

5. School’s out for summer

Outside of Sweden, an employer might frown upon workers taking longer than two weeks leave.

In Sweden, the whole country more or less shuts down between from late June through July when practically everyone takes around four to five weeks off in a row.

Heck, some Swedes will tell you a vacation isn’t really a vacation if it’s not at least three weeks. That’s more than enough time to unwind while you kick back with an ice-cold öl at your summer house in the archipelago….

6. Extra vacation pay

Speaking of vacation, for each day of paid holiday leave you get your normal monthly salary plus a 0.8 percent supplement per day. The idea is that you spend a little more moolah while on holiday, so when you crash back to reality there’s some extra in your pay packet at the end of the month.

How can you not love working in a country where you get paid more to take vacation?

7. AVs

In Sverige, you don’t head out for a quick beer at the end of the working day. Rather you go for an “AV”, which not so obviously stands for an “afterwork” drink — you just have to bear in mind that V and W are practically interchangeable in Swedish. Because vhy vouldn’t they be?

8. Jantelagen

Sure, it might be your pitch that won the company’s new top client, or perhaps it’s down to you that your team met its annual sales quota. But if there’s one rule in the Swedish workplace, it’s that no-one is better than anyone else.

Swedes follow the rule of Jantelagen which means not bragging about your victories, even if you really, really want to. So when you feel extra proud of a professional achievement…keep it to yourself.

Find out more and apply for Akademikernas A-kassa

9. Work/Life Balance

Sweden frequently tops the lists of countries with the best “work-life balance”, and while Sweden’s experiments with a six-hour working day didn’t quite take off, free time is still taken very seriously.

It’s rare to see anyone burning the midnight oil, and those that do are more likely to be accused of poorly handling their workload than being dedicated to their job.

10. “God morgon, Ann-Sofie!”

Swedish workplaces are famously egalitarian with flat hierarchies and no need for airs and graces. That means calling your boss by his or her first name, even if it feels strange at first.

You also might be surprised to find your boss often asks for what seems like everyone’s opinion before taking action. And this consensus-based decision making does wonders for making everyone feel valued in the workplace. It also means that even simple decisions can get dragged out just a little longer than might seem necessary.

It’s just one of the many things you learn to love about working in Sweden.

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by Akademikernas a-kassa.

For members


How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

It can now take about six months to get a work permit in Sweden, and a year for an extension. Here's how you can get on the fast track.

How foreigners can get on the fast track for a work permit in Sweden

How long does it normally take to get a permit to work in Sweden? 

According to the calculator on the Migration Agency’s website, 75 percent of first work permit applications are completed within three months, and 75 percent of work permit extensions are completed within 14 months. 

These numbers, though, are only for people in non-risk industries. If you are applying for a job in the cleaning, building, hotel and restaurant, or car repair industries — all of which are seen as high risk by the agency — applications can take much longer to be approved. 

For these industries, the calculator suggests a long 12-month wait for a first application and a 17-month wait for an extension. 

This is because of the higher number of unscrupulous employers in these industries who do not pay foreign workers their promised salaries, or do not fulfil other requirements in their work permit applications, such as offering adequate insurance and other benefits. 

So how do you get on the fast track for a permit? 

There are two ways to get your permit more rapidly: the so-called “certified process” and the EU’s Blue Card scheme for highly skilled employees. 

What is the certified process?

The certified process was brought in back in 2011 by the Moderate-led Alliance government to help reduce the then 12-month wait for work permits.

Under the process, bigger, more reputable Swedish companies and trusted intermediaries handling other applications for clients, such as the major international accounting firms, can become so-called “certified operators”, putting the work permit applications they handle for employees on a fast track, with much quicker processing times. 

The certified operator or the certified intermediary is then responsible for making sure applications are ‘ready for decision’, meaning the agency does not need to spend as much time on them. 
You can find answers to the most common questions about the certified process on the Migration Agency’s website

How much quicker can a decision be under the certified process? 
Under the agreement between certified employers and the Migration Agency, it should take just two weeks to process a fresh work permit application, and four weeks to get an extension. 
Unfortunately, the agency is currently taking much longer: between one and three months for a fresh application, and around five to six months for an extension. 
This is still roughly half the time it takes for an employee seeking a permit outside the certified process. 
The Migration Agency told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in a recent article that in September the average decision had taken 105 days, while over the year as a whole, applications for certified companies had taken 46 days, and those for non-certified companies 120 days. 

How can someone planning to move to Sweden for work take advantage of the certified process? 
Unfortunately, it is very much up to your employer. If you are planning to move to Sweden for work, you should make sure to ask prospective employers if they are certified, or sub-certified through an intermediary firm, and take that into account when deciding which company to take a job with. 
Smaller IT companies are often not certified, as they tend to start off by recruiting from within Sweden or the European Union. 
If you have begun a work permit application with a company that is not certified or sub-certified, then you cannot get onto the fast track even if your employer gets certified while you are waiting for a decision. 
The certified process can also not be used to get a work permit for an employee of a multinational company who is moving to the Swedish office from an office in another country. 
If my employer is certified, what do I need to do?
You will need to sign a document giving power of attorney to the person at your new company who is handling the application, both on behalf of yourself and of any family members you want to bring to Sweden.  
You should also double check the expiry date on your passport and on those of your dependents, and if necessary applying for a new passport before applying, as you can only receive a work permit for the length of time for which you have a valid passport. 

Which companies are certified? 
Initially, only around 20 companies were certified, in recent years the Migration Agency has opened up the scheme to make it easier for companies to get certified, meaning there are now about 100 companies directly certified, and many more sub-certified. 
To get certified, a company needs to have handled at least ten work permit applications for foreign employees over the past 18 months (there are exceptions for startups), and also to have a record of meeting the demands for work and residency permits.  
The company also needs to have a recurring need to hire from outside the EU, with at least ten applications expected a year. 
The Migration Agency is reluctant to certify or sub-certify companies working in industries where it judges there is a high risk of non-compliance with the terms of work permits, such as the building industry, the hotel and restaurant industry, the retail industry, and agriculture and forestry. 
Most of the bigger Swedish firms that rely on foreign expertise, for example Ericsson, are certified. 
The biggest intermediaries through whom companies can become sub-certified are the big four accounting firms, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG, and Vialto (a spin-off from PwC), and the specialist relocation firms Human Entrance, and Alpha Relocation. Bråthe estimates that these six together control around 60 percent of the market. Other players include K2 Corporate Mobility, Key Relocation, Nordic Relocation, and some of the big corporate law firms operating in Sweden, such as Ving and Bird & Bird. 

What is the EU Blue Card, how can I get one, and how can it help speed up the work permit process? 
Sweden’s relatively liberal system for work permits, together with the certification system, has meant that in recent years there has been scant demand for the EU Blue Card. 
The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card giving full employment rights and expedited permanent residency. Unlike with the US Green Card, applicants must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times as high as the average in the country where they are applying.
Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards, divvying out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree (you need 180 university credits or högskolepoäng in Sweden’s system), and you need to be offered a job paying at least one and a half times the average Swedish salary (about 55,000 kronor a month).

How long does a blue card take to get after application in Sweden? 

According to the Migration Agency, a Blue Card application is always handled within 90 days, with the card then sent to the embassy or consulate named in the application.

In Sweden ,it is only really worth applying for a Blue Card if you are applying to work at a company that is not certified and are facing a long processing time.

EU Blue Cards are issued for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years.