Let’s imagine for a second a beautiful sunny day back in the 10th century. You’ve just finished doing chores when a local alchemist comes by and asks you: “hey, what do you think about Swedes?”. Probably, at that moment you’d have a micro heart attack because Swedes were associated with savage Vikings wearing those funny horned hats. Modern Swedes do not quite live up to that image. We picture them as tall blonde guys, who like lagom, tolerance, and herring. But these things don’t even start covering all the cultural differences Scandinavian countries have. And it’s not a big surprise that those differences intrigue us.

Now that it is much safer to visit Sweden than it was in the 10th century, the number of Ukrainian travelers has grown significantly. Swedish culture fascinates us, even if this interest shows only in binge-watching Vikings or Bridge. But do we have a clear understanding of what it’s like to work at a Swedish company? Well, we do. And you’ll also find it out after reading this.

Lagom

Let’s get this one straight off the bat. A couple of years ago it became popular to live like a Scandinavian. Hygge boomed first, and when its fame faded out, we discovered a new kid on the block — lagom. It’s a Swedish word, which means “not too much, not too little, just right”. At some point, it became so huge that it grew into a fully-fledged philosophy of living.

The truth is — drum roll — not all Swedes follow the lagom concept in business. It’s not a panacea, nor is it the only right way to do things. On the other hand, keeping a healthy work-life balance is quite a Swedish thing.

Since 2015, Swedish organizations have been experimenting with a 6-hour working day. These experiments were limited to a handful of companies, but the results were encouraging, so Swedes keep looking for alternative approaches to the work schedule.

Even in the most conservative offices, overtime is not appreciated. Bearing in mind the potential outcomes of burnouts, Swedes opt for spending quality time with their families and friends. If their kids are sick, they can always stay at home and take care of them. In Swedish such practice is called Vård av Barn. Plus, Swedish companies encourage their employees to stay fit by promoting fitness hours in offices.

The picture might be different for young Swedish entrepreneurs, who keep working even during third-class train travel (yeah, we’re talking about Beetroot’s founders here). But, in general, working at a Swedish company means that no one will judge you for leaving earlier to see your kids’ school play. Maybe this is the reason why Sweden ranks so high on the list of the happiest countries to work in.

Teamwork

Putting it in an oversimplified way, Swedes love spending long hours on team discussions and making collective decisions. In fact, a lot of Swedish companies are built around the concept of flat, non-hierarchical organizations. For us, people who grew in post-Soviet countries, this approach might be unusual. Although some Ukrainian companies have also tried to flatten their structures, the majority of them still rely on the traditional way of doing things.

 

For Swedes, it is important to reach a consensus when making decisions. They listen to everyone on the team, regardless of their seniority or position. With that in mind, Swedish teams are usually very informal. Traditional borders between managers and subordinates are quite blurred. Seeing an intern interrupting a chief officer with a random idea is a typical picture in Sweden.

For sure, such way of working has its downsides. Sometimes the decision-making process can stretch out for days or even weeks. Sometimes it’s impossible to find a decision, which makes everyone happy. But this inclusiveness and collective work can become a great creativity booster. After all, not only senior managers can generate cool ideas, right?

Tolerance and equality

Sweden is frequently pictured as a super-tolerant country. Sometimes it’s even mocked for being so. But similarly to the cases with lagom and teamwork, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Swedish business is not a la-la-land, where people of all races, gender, and age have equal representation. But at least, it’s trying to get there. According to the EU Report, Sweden scores 82.6 points on gender equality, which makes it the highest ranking country in Europe. Probably, the best illustration of this high score can be seen, when some of the Swedish employees are having a baby. Swedish law provides each parent with 240 days of parental leave, and half of these days are non-transferable. It means, that if parents want to receive 80% of their salary during the parental leave, each of them should babysit a newborn for three months. After the introduction of this policy, 45% of Swedish dads opted to take parental leaves.

When Swedes build companies in other countries they can’t bring their homeland laws with them, but they try to create cultures of inclusiveness and equality. If you’re applying for a job at a Swedish company, you can be sure that you won’t be discriminated based on your gender, religion or age.

We can talk about Swedish business culture for a very long time. Seriously, it’s hard to stop once we’ve started. But experiencing a culture is always better than reading about it. Here, at Beetroot, we’ve soaked our working environment with the Swedish vibe. If you are up to dive into it, check out our vacancies or come listen to our CMO during his talk about how Swedishness helps us create family vibe at work and support the teams’ wellbeing. It will take place at the Mental Health & Emotional Well-being Conference for Business in Kyiv on Match 13th.