5 “Odd” Features of Swedish Business Culture that Actually Make Sense
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This article explains 5 aspects of Swedish business culture with an Anglo perspective in mind.

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City Hall in Stockholm – photo from freedigitalpictures.com

If you’re not familiar with Swedish business culture, some of the behaviors and attitudes of your Swedish co-workers or business partners might seem just plain odd.

Why do these people value productivity so much, yet take so many breaks and days off? Why is there a long parade of meetings in what otherwise seems to you like an exceptionally efficient office? And why did a young subordinate you’ve barely spoken with just greet you by your nickname?!

Keep reading to learn about 5 seemingly weird Swedish behaviors that actually make sense once you dig deeper into the underlying culture.

1. Horizontality

Sweden has been described as a “low power distance” society by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, meaning that people neither accept nor expect a significantly unequal distribution of power.

This manifests in Swedish business culture through a short chain of command, with the director of a company being more available to employees than is seen in most other countries. The non-hierarchical mindset is also reflected in the relaxed atmosphere seen at Swedish offices, where bosses and employees are on a first-name basis with one another.

2. Consensus

Since Swedish people reject the idea of tall hierarchies, it stands to reason that they prefer making decisions through consensus.

The high importance of achieving consensus accounts for the surprisingly frequent meetings that frustrate some international businesspeople. Swedes often feel uncomfortable making decisions unless and until everyone has spoken their mind.

3. Optimal Balance

Swedish business culture, like Swedish life in general, is marked by a preference for the optimum rather than the excessive. You can hear this in the Swedish proverb “Lagom är bäst,” which literally means “The right amount is best,” but has been more poetically translated in the Lexin Swedish-English dictionary as “Enough is as good as a feast.”

Thus, many Swedish workers focus on taking just the right amount of time to complete necessary tasks well instead of taking on extra work.

4. Moderate Work Schedules

It’s no surprise that people who value moderation also value work–life balance.

Swedes enjoy many public holidays in addition to long summer vacations (or five weeks’ holiday to be taken at will). Each work day is also interspersed with two or three “fika” breaks, taken to enjoy coffee and chatter, and many short “leg-stretcher” breaks.

In addition to frequent holidays and breaks, Swedes also often enjoy flex-time at the office, allowing employees to ensure that their work schedules are compatible with personal and family responsibilities.

5. Efficiency

After hearing so much about vacations, breaks, and flex-time, are you surprised to hear that efficiency is a defining feature of Swedish business culture?

Just remember that Swedes value taking optimal action. This is reflected in the careful punctuality and high productivity that characterises Swedish employees, who want to handle each task with just the right amount of time and attention.

I hope that this article has given you a more cohesive picture of modern Swedish business culture. Don’t worry if you still think your Swedish team members are a little weird—they probably think you are a little weird, too.

By the way, if you would like help crafting a Swedish-language message that reflects Swedish business culture, please take a look at my website localization services.

Tess
Tess
Swedish Translation Services is a company owned by Tess Whitty, a freelance translator (English-Swedish), proofreader, editor, copy writer, localizer and entrepreneur.

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