For the past 2 years since I’ve lived in Sweden, I learnt one thing. Swedes take their Fika very seriously.
What is the actual meaning of fika?
For those who aren’t partial to a bit of Swedish, “fika” is mostly a noun and it translates to coffee, but colloquially it’s often used as a verb (kinda like Google). The full meaning of the word, to Swedes is “slowing down”, “taking a break to have coffee and socialise”. So what “fika” really stands for is “coffee, treat and socialise”.
Why the treat? Probably because Swedes like a bakery goody along with their tea and coffee. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a chokladbollar, a cinnamon bun or a cream bun?
Why are Swedes so attached to their fika?
All over Sweden, fika is a way of life. It means a time in the day where you just take a break. Whether it is to slow down, socialise with friends, reflect or just contemplate a moment of quiet, fika is something that Swedes really enjoy.
In the time I spent working in Sweden, fika was a regular in the office, around late mornings and in the afternoon (förmiddagsfika and eftermiddagsfika). It wasn’t an excuse to slack off, it was actually encouraged and many workplaces have a fika policy. Not only has it been shown that it increases productivity, but many new ideas flow freely when you’re relaxed with a coffee and a pastry, on a break.
What does fika have to do with business?
Counter-intuitively, slowing down means gearing up. There have been quite a few studies showing the benefits of smaller breaks throughout the working day. Beyond the scientific proof, I’ve witnessed it firsthand. People feel less intimidated, hierarchy breaks down and suggesting new ideas is a lot more natural, when the conversation is less formal.
What’s new about having coffee you might be thinking. Absolutely nothing. From the Gates to Bosphorus, to Grand Central Plaza Manhattan, and to Kremlin’s Red Square you will find Starbuck’s and coffee on the go pretty much everywhere. But that’s the thing. It’s not about sitting down and enjoying the brew anymore. It’s about getting that Venti pumpkin spiced latte on the go. Fika still has coffee at the heart of it, but it is all about embracing the slower pace.
When you have a business, it becomes a lot harder to slow down. You simply forget and boundaries quickly shift around. That’s why fika seems the right way to go. Amid all the pressure, deadlines and work of a business, you have to make time for a drink, treat and chat.
What are the benefits of fika to Swedish businesses?
- Less burnout: small, consistent recovery breaks for employees led to less burnout and long-term sick leave.
- Productivity: Swedes have a pretty flat hierarchy, but because fika helps break the ice between staff, by socialising more, there is more opportunity for unpredicted collaborations and partnerships.
- Creativity: ground-breaking ideas hardly ever happen in a boardroom. They come about between friends, written down on the proverbial tissue. Surrounded by good food, relaxed conversations and high spirits.
Do you fika?
In today’s society “I’m a workaholic” is almost a badge of honour. Hard work is rewarded. Busy is good. So it may seem a little surprising that this article in the Atlantic called it a bluff: we’re at an all-time high for logging the hours, in exchange for less efficiency. Work harder, stay later, answer emails immediately and check in on evenings has become the norm. Because it’s been a behaviour praised time and time again, by now it’s almost expected.
And the price that businesses pay all over is high. We have a record high number of overworked employees. The immediate correlation is stress, disengagement and burnout.
Personally, I think that in a world of busy people, Swedes are right to slow down.