Business culture in Sweden
Swedish business life is more relaxed and egalitarian than that of many nations with which the country trades. The boss is one of the team, decisions are reached by consensus, the vacations are long, and the coffee breaks are sacred.
Egalitarianism is a key theme in Swedish society and is an important factor in the office. There’s no executive dining room and the boss’s desk often stands next to those of his or her employees. Egalitarianism also shines through in the consensus approach to decision-making. While passion, argumentativeness and the slamming of fists on desks are part of everyday business in some cultures, they are alien to the Swedish management style. Instead of getting a finger poked in their chest, employees are asked their opinions on important decisions. This love of consensus is apparent from the vast number of meetings in the average working day. It may seem excessive to the outsider, but it allows everyone to have their say.
Women are often found in leadership positions; about one in five board members and one in three managers in Swedish listed companies is a woman, and while this is not true gender equality, it is double the European average. A World Economic Forum report has called Sweden and its Nordic neighbors “top performers and true leaders” on gender equality.
Business dress is on the casual side — you don’t see many suits on the train during the morning commute — and everyone is strictly on first-name terms, regardless of their place in the company hierarchy.
Swedes are often envied by their colleagues or counterparts overseas for their work-life balance. Sweden has one of the world’s most generous systems of parental leave, and many employees use flexitime to fit in a trip to the gym in the morning or to pick up the kids straight after school. Don’t expect to get much business done with a Swedish company over the summer months — and July in particular — because most Swedes take between four and six weeks off during the summer.
In between the long holidays, the early finishes, the long stretches of parental leave and the back-to-back coffee breaks, your average Swedish worker seems to be remarkably efficient and contributes to making the country rich, innovative and successful.
Swedish business people consider themselves lagom, meaning normal. They are often unaware that their international business partners may have a different opinion. Communications expert Colin Moon thinks they are amusing and, at times, really quite odd.