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The Swedish secret to being happy at work

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 03/28/22

It's no surprise this Nordic country is reported to have some of the happiest people in the world, given this little tradition.

Finding the perfect work-life balance is tricky, but a recent report by the BBC on how the Swedes make work a happier place might give us all a little inspiration.

In Sweden, employees take the time to indulge in a “fika,” which is a moment in the day where they take the foot off the gas and sit down and chat with colleagues over a cup of coffee.

The word “fika” actually stems from the Swedish word for coffee, which is kafi. If you invert the syllables you’ll get the word “fika,” as the BBC explain in their report.

This break in the day is not for a quick gulp of a coffee at the desk, or even by the coffee machine — instead it’s a special moment protected by law. Companies often have mandatory breaks in the day, a practice that dates back to the early 1900s, when factories noticed there were more issues occurring at two points in the day: 10 a.m. and 3 p.m..

The fika break actually managed to help reduce these incidents, and today is said to be the reason why Swedes are the least stressed at work, while still being very productive.

So what makes this coffee break so different from the ones we have in the workplace in anglophone countries?

Firstly, the large cup of coffee is often accompanied with 7 different types of cake — traditionally eaten in a certain order. And secondly, it’s a moment of social interaction.

It’s important to note that the fika is not a more casual way to hold a meeting. In fact, work may not be mentioned at all. The special pause in the work day is a real opportunity to unwind and socialize. It’s never taken alone and if you’re invited to a fika it is considered very bad form to decline.

While it may be difficult to insist on a prolonged coffee break in your workplace, you might take inspiration from the Swedes and use any breaks you do have as a way to socialize with colleagues and get to know more about their lives, rather than focus on work.

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