A CEO explains the biggest difference between Swedish and American work culture


Toca Boca CEO Bjorn Jeffery

Toca Boca

Coffee breaks are pretty important in Sweden, according to Toca Boca CEO Bjorn Jeffery (pictured).


Don't trust those fancy perks.

Pluses like free food, movies, and booze might just be traps that entice you to stay in the office and work longer hours, according to Toca Boca CEO Bjorn Jeffery.

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"Perks [in the US] often encourage people to stay at the office," Jeffery told Business Insider. "Like, we'll give you breakfast if you come in early, or we'll give you dinner if you stay late. As long as you stay in the office, we will reward you."

He argues that it might be more efficient if employees just went home and got some rest. Jeffery, who co-founded the Stockholm-based digital play studio of about 70 employees, says that this is the biggest difference between the US and Sweden when it comes to work culture.


In the US, millions of vacation days get left on the table every year. Many Americans barely even take lunch breaks anymore, as NPR reported. And when we finally do take some time off, we're still attached to our devices and inboxes.

Jeffery says that in Sweden, the view is that people who take breaks are more productive, since they're well-rested.

Here are some of the ways that this view on breaks differentiates Swedish work culture from American work culture:

1. Practically everyone takes a summer vacation in Sweden

Americans aren't great at taking their vacation days, as Business Insider previously reported. It's not just that everyone's a workaholic. There's a real fear of falling behind - or getting judged - if you take time off.

That's not the case in Sweden. Jeffery notes that the country's cold climate might influence people's perception of breaks.


"If you didn't get any time off in the summer to enjoy the very few weeks that it's actually sunny and lovely, then that would not be good," he says.

As a result, summer vacation is much more of a collective activity. There's less societal pressure to keep working and you don't have to worry about leaving your coworkers hanging if you take time off to catch some rays.

2. In Sweden, it's somewhat easier to be a working parent

Jeffery says that being a working parent is somewhat easier in Sweden.

As the New Republic reported, Swedish parents receive "16 months of paid leave after the birth of a newborn, extra tax credits to defray the cost of child-rearing, plus access to regulated, subsidized day care facilities."

As a result, Jeffery says that employees at Toca Boca's US offices in San Francisco and Brooklyn are encouraged to find good work-life balances.


"I have a daughter who's two and a half," he says. "If I don't leave on time, I don't get to see her that day. That's not going to make me a very happy person. That's probably not going to make me a great CEO either."

3. Coffee breaks are serious business in Sweden

In Sweden, coffee breaks aren't just coffee breaks. They're known as fika, and they're pretty serious business.

"In Sweden, it's almost institutionalized," Jeffery says. "You could not walk into an established company in Sweden, regardless of what industry it's in, and remove the fika. That would cause a minor revolution, because it's so ingrained."

Basically, during fika, you get up from your desk, drink coffee, and eat something sweet with your colleagues. Some businesses have formal fika (say, every day at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.), while others treat the custom a bit more casually. Jeffery says that fika offers an opportunity to take a break during the day, and speak to coworkers that you might not see otherwise.

"In reality, it acts as a sort of lubricant for communication," he told Business Insider. "It's a chance for people to talk to each other outside of formal meetings."


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