The A–Ö of Swedish working life

From afterwork drinks to kollektivavtal to vabbing, here are the 31 terms you need to know if you’re working in Sweden.

The A–Ö of Swedish working life
The Swedish workplace can be a jungle of wonderfully weird terminology.

“Join the AW this Wednesday!”

“Henrik won’t be in today, he’s VABbing”

“Anyone fancy a fikapaus?”

Working in a different country is hard enough without having absolutely no idea what everyone else is talking about. This non-exhaustive glossary of terms for working life in Sweden will help you to join the conversation without having to guess what it’s about.

A – A-kassa (Sweden’s unemployment fund)

Short for arbetslöshetskassa (unemployment insurance), this is the unemployment fund that takes care of you if you find yourself unemployed. Everyone working in Sweden is eligible for unemployment insurance at a low basic level, but there are also several a-kassa funds you can voluntarily join in order to get more.

If you have a university degree then Akademikernas a-kassa is the a-kassa for you. For a small sum each month you could receive up to 80 percent of your previous salary if you lose your job or even if you just fancy some time out to rethink your career. 

A – AW (Afterwork drinks)

We’ve thrown in this extra A because it’s arguably the most important part of Swedish working culture.

In your home country, afterwork drinks may have been reserved for Friday nights. In Sweden, that rule goes out the window. 

Abbreviated to AW (but pronounced ah-veh because Vs and Ws are interchangeable to Svedes, obwiously), celebrations often take place midweek. It sounds like a great idea (until you have to wake up for work the next day).

Working in Sweden? Discover the benefits of joining a-kassa

It’s important to know what AW is in Swedish working culture.

B – Bilförmån (Company car)

This one’s a good-to-know.

In Sweden, if permitted by your employment contract, you can drive your company car for private purposes up to 10 times per year for a maximum of 100 miles. 

C – Cykelvänlig arbetsplats (Bicycle-friendly workplace)

Being physically active and environmentally conscious are important considerations for most Swedes. 

Many workplaces now strive to become accredited ‘bicycle-friendly workplaces’. This often includes bicycle parking facilities and equipment but some workplaces even include further incentives such as annual financial contributions and in-house bicycle workshops to get their employees cycling to and from work.

D – Distansarbete (Distance work)

Even pre-pandemic, distance work was common in the Swedish workforce, with many employees opting to work out of office for all or part of their working week. Working remotely has been shown to increase productivity by 13 percent, so perhaps this is the secret to Sweden’s success?

Receive benefits based on your salary if you become unemployed. Join an unemployment insurance fund like Akademikernas a-kassa

Distansarbete has become the norm in recent years.

E – Egen uppsägning (Self-termination of employment)

Although you’ll most likely still have to work a notice period of a month or more, you have the right to terminate your employment at any time.

The best part is, if you are looking to change jobs and you’re a member of Akademikernas a-kassa you can still receive unemployment benefits even if you’ve voluntarily chosen to quit your job, so signing up really is a no-brainer.

But bear in mind, you should still save two months of lön (more on that later) because you only start getting benefits after a two-month suspension period.

F – Facket (The Union)

Trade unions are an important part of the Swedish workforce and union membership is typically very high. Unions operate across various industries and are there to negotiate and advocate on your behalf as well as provide information in professional situations.

Fikapaus (Fika break)

Oh go on, have another F too.

One of the first and most important terms you’ll learn in your Swedish professional life is fikapaus. This is where the office magic happens. Your seemingly reserved Swedish colleague nibbles on a cinnamon bun, sips a strong filter coffee, then BAM! all of a sudden you’re best pals and they’re inviting you to stay at their stuga in the archipelago.

G – Graviditet (Pregnancy)

Provided health and safety rules are adhered to and the pregnancy is healthy, mothers in Sweden work well into their pregnancy. As soon as you tell your employer you’ve got a bun in the oven, they will carry out a workplace risk assessment. If any risks are found, the employer must adapt the work to your needs. 

Gravid? There are workplace rules in place for during pregnancy. Photo: Getty Images
H – Hierarkier (Hierarchies)

You will quickly notice that hierarchies are flat and virtually non-existent in Swedish workplaces. Management is typically ruled by consensus and employers and employees are both addressed by their first names. 

It might not be what you’re used to in your home country, but it’s totally OK to call your boss Carin (unless, of course, that isn’t her name). 

I – Inkomstskatt (Income tax)

Declaring your taxes has never been easier. In tech-savvy Sweden, you can swap the gruelling handwritten tax forms for online, app-based or phone-based submission. You can even send them via text message. It just goes to show, tax doesn’t have to be taxing!

J – Jantelagen

Equality is a cornerstone of Swedish culture, and there’s even a cultural law to stop people from showing off. It’s called the Law of Jante, although we’ll leave it to you to decide how serious the Swedes are at sticking to it.

K – Kollektivavtal (Collective agreement)

Collective agreements are a common and important part of the Swedish workplace. Negotiated between your employer and a trade union, these agreements provide a safety net and serve to regulate salary, working hours, leave, holiday pay, insurance, and all the other things that keep working Swedes in good health and spirits.

L – Lön (Salary)

Very few people go to work just for fun, so the glossary of words on Swedish working life would hardly be complete without the ever-important word for ‘salary’. We’ll pop in this just-as-noteworthy term for you too: lönebesked (payslip).

Find out more about Akademikernas a-kassa, Sweden’s unemployment fund for university graduates

M – MBL (the Co-Determination in the Workplace Act)

It’s the Swedish trade unions which represent employees in the workplace. They’re able to do this for a couple of reasons: first off, union membership is very high in Sweden (around 70 percent of Swedes are signed up to a union); and secondly, the 1976 Co-Determination in the Workplace Act (MBL), which is an act of legislation that gives the unions their wide-ranging powers.

N – Nystartsjobb

Been out of a job for longer than 12 months? The friendly folk at Arbetsförmedlingen (Swedish Public Employment Service) have your back. This programme offers financial support for employers willing to hire people who have been long-term unemployed.

O – Obekväm arbetstid (Uncomfortable working hours)

Sweden is all about work-life balance, and part of that is about making sure employees are compensated if they work obekväm arbetstid. This means anytime you find yourself burning the midnight oil (or in Sweden, more like the 6pm oil). 

P – Pappaledig (Paternal leave)

Directly translated into English as ‘dad free’, pappaledig refers specifically to paternity leave in Sweden. New parents get 480 days of parental benefit to split between them. The father or non-pregnant parent may also take an additional 10 days of paid leave when the baby is born.

Q – Qigong

You don’t necessarily have to practice Qigong, the Chinese system of coordinated body posture and movement, in order to stay well. However, it’s just one way to stay mentally and physically fit, which is an important part of working life in Sweden.

Health and wellbeing benefits are often a part of Swedish working life. Photo: Getty Images

Many Swedish companies even subsidise their employees’ exercise habits, contributing up to 500 euros a year which can be put towards gym memberships or other approved physical activities like yoga or climbing.

R – Röda dagar (Red days)

In Sweden, public holidays are referred to as röda dagar (red days) as they are printed red in most calendars.

Employees get these days off in addition to the 25 days of paid leave firms are required to give them by law. 

S – Semester (Holiday)

In some countries, the word ‘semester’ means the time of year when you have to attend school or university.

In Sweden, it means the total opposite! 

The Swedish word semester actually means ‘holiday’ and dang, do the Swedes love a good semester. In fact, they clear off for basically the whole of June and July, often taking 3-4 weeks of holiday in a row.

P – Pension

A pension (pronounced more like pen-hwoon in Swedish) is a fund into which payments are made to support you financially when you reach retirement age. 

Pensions in Sweden can come from several sources, including the Swedish Pensions Agency which is the national retirement pension as well as your employer who may also make separate contributions. You can also take out a private pension and start saving independently.

T – Tillsvidareanställning (Permanent contract) 

Most often when you get a new job in Sweden, there will be a six month probation period before you are on a tillsvidareanställning. During the first six months, both you and your employer can choose to terminate the employment on the spot. This might sound scary, but it also works in your favour if you realise your new job isn’t quite right for you.

U – Uppsägningstid (Handing in your notice)

If you want to quit your job, it’s up to you to hand in your notice. You can do this at any time and you aren’t required to give a reason for terminating your employment. This should be done in writing as it is up to you to prove that you followed protocol in case of a dispute with your employer. 

The notice letter should include your name, the date, the name of the recipient, the date you are cancelling your employment and the last day you will be working (taking your notice period into account).

With a-kassa membership you could be eligible for unemployment benefits, even if you choose to leave your job? Learn how 

V – VAB (Vård av barn)

If you’re the parent of a child aged up to 12 years old, VAB (Vård av barn or ‘care of child’) is one of the most important terms you can learn. It’s also pretty handy to know even if you don’t have kids so you know what your colleagues mean when they say they’re ‘vabbing’ today.

The state pays temporary parental benefits equalling 80 percent of your salary, and parents can VAB up to 120 days a year per child. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to fur babies yet so if Rover gets sick…ruff luck.

W – Whiteboardtavla (Whiteboard)

Despite digital innovation, the humble whiteboard is still the centrepiece of the collaborative Swedish workplace culture. 

Y – Yrke (Profession)

It’s the reason we need this list to begin with! The Swedish word for ‘profession’ refers to your line of work, whether you’re a teacher, broadcaster, sales manager, or professional calligrapher.

Whatever your profession, it’s worth knowing the Swedish word for ‘profession’.
Z – Zzzzz

OK, we might be cheating here a bit, but you try finding a Swedish work-related word that begins with Z! And anyway, it’s what it stands for that counts. Skimping on sleep can affect your work, not to mention your health, which as we’ve already mentioned is a top priority here in Sweden.

Å – Årstid (Season)

Like most countries, there is the opportunity to take up seasonal work in Sweden. For example, Skåne in the south of Sweden is a good place to look for crop-picking jobs which can be a good way for backpackers to pick up some extra bucks.

Ä – Äntligen (Finally)

While in English you might breathe a sigh of relief when it’s FINALLY Friday, here in Sweden, it’s ÄNTLIGEN Fredag!

Ö – Övertid (Overtime)

If your workplace has a kollektivavtal, övertid (overtime) is regulated which means your employer must order your overtime in advance or approve it retrospectively. It’s just one of the many perks of working here in Sweden.

Apply for membership to Akademikernas a-kassa and know your income is protected if you lose, or leave, your job



‘Hard to know your rights’: three quarters of foreigners in Sweden afraid of losing job

With Sweden's economy likely to dip into recession next year, more than three-quarters of respondents to a survey by The Local have said they are "slightly" or "extremely" worried about losing their jobs.

'Hard to know your rights': three quarters of foreigners in Sweden afraid of losing job

Out of 53 respondents to our (highly unscientific) survey, 28 said they were “slightly worried” about losing their job and 13 “extremely worried”, with the remaining twelve saying they were not worried at all. 

Most of the foreign workers who weren’t worried either work in industries or companies expected to weather any downturn or have skills, such as IT programming, of which there is a shortage in Sweden. 

“I work in an area of IT that helps businesses reduce costs, so I expect my employer to be busier,” wrote Geoff, who lives in Stockholm. “I keep myself updated with the latest trending technologies,” added Sachin, who like Geoff works in IT. 

“My skills are needed in both Sweden and all over the world, and the company I work for can use my skills on those contracts,” said one American software engineer. 

Those who were more worried mainly worked in other fields.

One employee for a Swedish religious aid organisation said that a tenth of the staff had recently been made redundant, with a further 25 percent resigning in protest, and that he, as a result, now felt his position was insecure.  

READ ALSO: How will Sweden’s Employment Act reform impact foreigners?

What measures have people taken to make their financial positions more secure? 

There was a clear division among the survey’s respondents between those who have permanent residency, Swedish citizenship, or EU citizenship, and those who are employed in Sweden on a two-year work permit. 

“I am still waiting for my permanent residence permit,” said one. “There is a rule that requires you to be a permanent employee both at the time you apply and when the Migration Agency makes a decision. Current processing times are around six months and this creates a lot of uncertainties. If you lose your job while waiting for a decision, you will lose your right to permanent residence and it’s not clear how much time you will have to find a new job.” 

Although many of those on work permits were still members of an a-kassa, Sweden’s heavily subsidised unemployment insurance organisations, they said that they feared they would not receive the full benefits if they were made unemployed, as they risked being forced to leave Sweden. 

“If you are a permanent resident or citizen, the employee benefits from a-kassa and unemployment insurance is quite good,” one wrote. “But this doesn’t apply if you are on a temporary work permit. In that case, you will still have to leave the country in three months if you can’t find a new job and I am not sure if you can continue receiving unemployment benefits once your work permit expires.” 

A few respondents said that they had taken out additional insurance on top of their a-kassa membership, so they would replace their full salary if made redundant, while others said that they had joined the union in their workplace. 

However, a significant number of the respondents said they were relying mainly on their own private protection, with several saying they had reduced their spending to build up a cash buffer, others saying they had built up an investment portfolio. 

In addition, many said they constantly sought to improve their value as an employee through in-work skills training, working hard and making themselves indispensable. 

How did respondents rate the employment protection in Sweden? 

In general, respondents rated the system of employment protection in Sweden quite highly, with the 53 respondents rating it at seven out of ten, on a scale from “poor” to “excellent”. 

Source: Typeform/The Local

Strong employee rights and a fairly equal health system are important elements of Sweden’s system,” wrote one respondent approvingly, while another said it was a comfort to know that “there is a process that is more or less in your favour”. 

Several respondents added, however, that the system was confusing and difficult to navigate for foreigners. 

“Coming from a country where employment laws are written to protect the employer, it’s hard to know all of your rights in Sweden, said one, while another said the employment protection laws were “hard to navigate as an immigrant”. 

Some questioned how useful Sweden’s unions were when employers were abusing the system, with the charity employee saying he was “not impressed with the Swedish union model” on the basis of his experience. 

“The effectiveness of the union depends too much on inexperienced, ineffective local staff, and unions do not have real teeth they can use in a case where an employer just ignores them,” he argued.

“As strange as it sounds, an employer that is not negotiating in good faith can just ignore and exhaust union demands and complaints. The union is reluctant to take things beyond sending written complaints to the employer. Even in cases where age discrimination occurs, the penalties are so small that claims are not worth pursuing.” 

Are foreigners planning on taking advantage of the new opportunities for retraining? 

Under new employment reforms which came into force in October, employees in Sweden are entitled to special loans for retraining courses, called omställningsstudiestödet. All employees can from this month apply for a loan for courses starting in January.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would be interested in taking advantage of the new scheme.