Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work
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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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The Top 10 highest paid CEOs of the ASX 200 revealed

Along with pay rates, the latest report from the ACSI shows bonuses are no longer based on exceptional results

By Bronwyn Allen
Tue, Jul 23, 2024 2 min

The CEOs of the ASX 200 were paid a little less in FY23 compared to the year before, but bonuses appear to have become the norm rather than a reward for outstanding results, according to the Australia Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI). ACSI has released its 23rd annual report documenting the CEOs’ realised pay, which combines base salaries, bonuses and other incentives.

The highest-paid CEO among Australian-domiciled ASX 200 companies in FY23 was Greg Goodman of Goodman Group, with realised pay of $27.34 million. Goodman Group is the ASX 200’s largest real estate investment trust (REIT) with a global portfolio of $80.5 billion in assets. The highest-paid CEO among foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies was Mick Farrell of ResMed with realised pay of $47.58 million. ResMed manufactures CPAP machines to treat sleep apnoea.

The realised pay for the CEOs of the largest 100 companies by market capitalisation fell marginally from a median of $3.93 million in FY22 to $3.87 million in FY23. This is the lowest median in the 10 years since ACSI began basing its report on realised pay data. The median realised pay for the CEOs of the next largest 100 companies also fell from $2.1million to $1.95 million.

However, 192 of the ASX 200 CEOs took home a bonus, and Ed John, ACSI’s executive manager of stewardship, is concerned that bonuses are becoming “a given”.

“At a time when companies are focused on productivity and performance, it is critical that bonuses are only paid for exceptional outcomes,” Mr John said. He added that boards should set performance thresholds for CEO bonuses at appropriate levels.

ACSI said the slightly lower median realised pay of ASX 200 CEOs indicated greater scrutiny from shareholders was having an impact. There was a record 41 strike votes against executive pay at ASX 300 annual general meetings (AGMs) in 2023. This indicated an increasing number of shareholders were feeling unhappy with the executive pay levels at the companies in which they were invested.

A strike vote means 25 percent or more of shareholders voted against a company’s remuneration report. If a second strike vote is recorded at the next AGM, shareholders can vote to force the directors to stand for re-election.

10 highest-paid ASX 200 CEOs in FY23

1. Mick Farrell, ResMed, $47.58 million*
2. Robert Thomson, News Corporation, $41.53 million*
3. Greg Goodman, Goodman Group, $27.34 million
4. Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie Group, $25.32 million
5. Mike Henry, BHP Group, $19.68 million
6. Matt Comyn, Commonwealth Bank, $10.52 million
7. Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto, $10.47 million
8. Rob Scott, Wesfarmers, $9.57 million
9. Ron Delia, Amcor, $9.33 million*
10. Colin Goldschmidt, Sonic Healthcare, $8.35 million

Source: ACSI. Foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies*

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