Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work
Kanebridge News
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Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work

Workers and bosses alike are trying to figure out ways to reinvigorate work life. Could a cherished Swedish coffee ritual be the answer?

By ANNE MARIE CHAKER
Wed, Feb 7, 2024 8:34amGrey Clock 4 min

Would work be better if we all took a collective coffee break?

Workers in Sweden certainly think so. There, work life has long revolved around fika, a once- or twice-a-day ritual in which colleagues put away phones, laptops and any shoptalk to commune over coffee, pastries or other snacks. Swedish employees and their managers say the cultural tradition helps drive employee well-being, productivity and innovation by clearing the mind and fostering togetherness.

Now, as bosses and workers elsewhere try to reinvigorate office life and flagging job satisfaction, fika fascination is seeping into other workplaces.

The Grand, a New York-based career and leadership coaching platform, summons its all-remote staff of 10 every other Friday for coffee and conversation over Zoom. London-based Hubble, a website for finding flexible workspaces, took up the tradition after being introduced to it by a Swedish staff member.

“Everyone has an excuse to log off and let their hair down,” said Tushar Agarwal, chief executive of Hubble, where staff gather the last Thursday of every month for baked goods, chitchat and, of course, coffee.

A recent product offering—for part-time office space with new contract terms—sprang from a discussion that took place during fika, says chief of staff Charlie Bastier. It’s now one of the fastest-growing revenue streams, he says.

Not a Starbucks run

The pressure to make tweaks to the daily ritual is particularly acute in the U.S. Employees continue to report feeling less engaged in their jobs than in pre pandemic times, Gallup data show.

In addition, bonding with colleagues has become harder and less of a priority for many people in the hybrid world of work. Some employers worry the lack of social cohesion is harming company culture and operations.

At The Grand’s regular fika, staffers take turns hosting, leading with casual conversation or a board game such as Code Names or a drawing competition. The Grand’s co-founder Rei Wang says that fika allows her to spend time with her staff, making her a better leader.

“Learning more about their passions and their geniuses helps me understand and collaborate with them,” she says.

Pronounced “fee-kah,” the Swedish culture of breaking for coffee involves much more than a schlep to Starbucks. It’s meant to be a deliberate pause to provide space and time for people to connect. Many Swedish companies build a mandatory fika into the workday, while the Embassy of Sweden in Washington holds one for staff weekly. IKEA, promoting its Upphetta coffee maker on the corporate website, extols the virtues of fika: “When we disconnect for a short period, our productivity increases significantly.”

“Fika is where we talk life, we talk everything but work itself,” said Micael Dahlen, professor of well-being, welfare and happiness at the Stockholm School of Economics. The ritual helps drive trivsel, he says, a term that means a combination of workplace enjoyment and thriving. The concept is so fundamental to Swedish workplaces that many companies in Sweden have trivselcommittees, he said.

Dahlen said he suspects a pandemic-era drop in office fikas contributed to a sharp decline in Swedes’ happiness at work. Just over half of workers in Sweden reported a high level of job satisfaction in 2022, according to Eurostat, compared with 69.5% in 2017.

A productivity booster

There’s some evidence that communal coffee breaks help boost productivity. In a study of call centre workers at Bank of America, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that teams that scheduled 15-minute breaks together were 18% more communicative with one another through the workday than groups with staggered breaks.

Annual turnover, likewise, was 12% among teams that held collective coffee breaks versus 40% among other workers. In all, the teamwork fostered via the breaks led to an estimated $15 million in increased annual productivity, says lead researcher Ben Waber.

“People who are in a tight knit social group have higher levels of trust,” said Waber, who has since founded a behavioural analytics company called Humanyze.

Hubble employees take turns baking and get a stipend of about $20 for supplies for the company’s monthly fikas. Last week, 26 staff members gathered in a communal area away from desks and cubicles.

Kate Mehigan, an account manager, brought in homemade arancini balls and Eliot Dixon, an account team lead, laid out a Basque cheesecake from a recipe he’d found online. Some people played ping pong.

Fleur Sylvester, a Hubble account executive, used the time to quiz a colleague on training advice for running a half-marathon. Sylvester says when she joined the company over a year ago the gatherings were invaluable for helping put faces to names.

“You get an opportunity to speak to other team members that you don’t get to talk to on a day-to-day basis,” Sylvester said. “When you’re online you don’t get the opportunity to have those chats.”

Peter Linder, head of thought leadership in North America for Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, recently introduced the fika concept to Jason Inskeep, senior director at management consulting company Slalom. The two men had initially met on a joint panel discussion, and Linder wanted to congratulate Inskeep on his new job at Slalom. He sent Inskeep a Zoom invite for a 20-minute fika one-on-one.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Inskeep said.

The vibe of the midmorning conversation—which meandered from the future of artificial intelligence to Inskeep’s own feelings navigating a new company culture—was different from the usual business tête-à-têtehe said. Bouncing ideas back and forth in a relaxed way left him feeling energised the rest of the morning.

“It was a mix of coffee shop and barber shop,” he said.



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Call to cut corporate carbon footprints is loudest from inside organizations, outweighing demand from customers and regulators, survey finds

By YUSUF KHAN
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The pressure on companies to cut their carbon footprint is coming more from within the organisations themselves than from customers and regulators, according to a new report.

Three-quarters of business leaders from across the Group of 20 nations said the push to invest in renewable energy is being driven mainly by their own corporate boards, with 77% of U.S. business leaders saying the pressure was extreme or significant, according to a new survey conducted by law firm Ashurst.

The corporate call to decarbonise is intensifying, Ashurst said, with 30% of business leaders saying the pressure from their own boards was extreme, up from 25% in 2022.

“We’re seeing that the energy transition is an area that is firmly embedded in the thinking of investors, corporates, governments and others, so there is a real emphasis on setting and acting on these plans now,” said Michael Burns, global co-head of energy at Ashurst. “That said, the pace of transition and the stage of the journey very much depends from business to business.”

The shift in sentiment comes as companies ramp up investment in renewable spending to meet their net-zero goals. Ashurst found that 71% of the more than 2,000 respondents to its survey had committed to a net-zero target, while 26% of respondents said their targets were under development.

Ashurst also found that solar was the most popular method to decarbonise, with 72% of respondents currently investing in or committed to investing in the clean energy technology. The law firm also found that companies tended to be the most active when it comes to renewable investments, with 52% of the respondents falling into this category. The average turnover of those companies was $15.1 billion.

Meanwhile, 81% of energy-sector respondents to the survey said they see investment in renewables as essential to the organisation’s strategic growth.

Burns said the 2030 timeline to reach net zero was very important to the companies it surveyed. “We are increasingly seeing corporate and other stakeholders actively setting and embracing trajectories to achieve net zero. However, greater clarity and transparency on the standards for measuring and managing these net-zero commitments is needed to ensure consistency in approach and, importantly, outcome,” he said.

Legal battles over climate change and renewable investing are also likely to rise, with 68% of respondents saying they expect to see an increase in legal disputes over the next five years, while only 16% anticipate a decrease, the report said.

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