How to adapt to the work culture in Stockholm
Publish date: 16 August 2021
Stockholm local Nick Harinos reflects on what he has learned about the work culture in Stockholm since moving to Sweden in 2019.
I’ve been working for a Swedish company since 2017, although it wasn’t until October 2019 that I actually moved to Stockholm. This is, in fact, the second time I’ve lived here; the first time was when I did my MA in Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics between 2015 and 2017. After that, I moved abroad and ended up living and working in various different countries including China, India, and the US. Then, in 2017, I joined Stockholm-based EdTech company Kognity, a rapidly growing start-up providing an online learning platform for international schools across the world. For the first two years I worked remotely before relocating to Stockholm.
All employees have a voice
I noticed almost as soon as I started working for a Swedish company that there was a distinct Swedish way of working. Before even moving to Stockholm, I realised this job would be different to what I had experienced before. In previous positions, I had worked in consulting and diplomacy among others, fields of work which tend to be more hierarchical in nature. Allocation of work would largely be mandated from the top down, with my role being to execute on a certain number of tasks and responsibilities. It wasn't uncommon that ideas I had to improve ways of working or the project would be shut down, which would be demoralising and deter me from innovating. Working for a Swedish start-up, I instantly felt that the environment was completely different. There was no strict organizational chain of command, with all employees being encouraged to voice their opinions, and if they have merit, to be incorporated and considered in your work.
Alongside relatively flat organisational hierarchies, decision-making on consensus was another key difference I noticed. Making a decision ‘by consensus’, largely made by reaching agreement in a group after considering everyone's opinion on the matter, was initially a challenge for me as I hadn't been used to such decision-making in previous roles. While initially leading to some challenges with some work colleagues due to my adjustment to the Swedish work culture, I was able to adjust and be able to perform well within my role and the company.
In previous roles, given the relatively rigid top-down hierarchical structure of decision-making, asking and incorporating opinions of work colleagues wouldn't lead to demonstrable change within. At Kognity and from experience of other colleagues working with other Swedisn companies, gathering and incorporating opinions of others is a very effective way to drive change. Albeit, at the potential cost of fast and in some cases inefficient decisions being taken given that you are generally required to ask everyone's opinion on a certain matter. But ultimately everyone feels more appreciated and there’s more buy-in because everyone has had a say.
‘You’re much more in control’
For non-Swedes it might take some adapting to the different attitude to work-life balance. You’re much more in control of your own day here. Often companies are more flexible with your work schedule and allow employees to start a bit later or finish a bit earlier - as long as you’re getting the job done! Swedes really value their private time and there’s a demonstrable distinction between work life and personal life. And most importantly, your manager and work colleagues respect and understand the distinction. I personally appreciate and value this attitude and am impressed by the appreciation for individuals and their own wellbeing. They don’t see you as less committed to your work. Once you’re in Sweden, and you have access to benefits like that, it makes you feel accepted and allows you to balance your life much better. It would definitely be hard to find somewhere else to live where you could enjoy such good perks.