The perks of Fika and taking a break
What if the secret to workplace happiness was just a four-letter word? A spotlight on fika, a Scandinavian institution, especially in Sweden.
Fika is a cultural norm in Sweden
Fika is a time-honored tradition that everyone enjoys. The concept is simple: a just grant yourself a moment to take a break with a hot drinknd come baked goods, one or two times a day, usually mid-morning and in the afternoon. The logic behind fika is to be present in the moment, in great company, whether with family, friends or colleagues. It’s a moment of pure relaxation and comfort. Participating collectively allows you to take a step back from your activities, decompress, disconnect, and recharge your batteries in a tranquil environment. You might say, “What’s the big deal? I fika every Sunday!” True, but what’s really interesting in Sweden is that fika is an integral part of office culture. Clearly, this tradition continues to thrive because the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Let’s take a look at the latest World Happiness Report results, published in March 2017. This international report measures happiness all over the globe, factoring in complementary indicators to the traditional economic factors, such as freedom, trust, life expectancy, and even generosity. Well, well, what do we have here? Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden are all in the Top 10. According to another study* by Grant Thornton (a business management consulting firm) of 7,400 business leaders in 36 countries, the Swedish executives reported the lowest stress levels (23% were stressed, compared to 76% in China, 74% in Mexico, and on the higher end of the spectrum, 51% for France). The Scandinavians definitely make you want to change things up a bit!
It’s not unusual to see someone munching on a sandwich while walking in the street in France, where taking a break is still synonymous with laziness, or even a decline in productivity. French people will remark sarcastically, “Someone has a lot of time to spare!” while the Swedes think, “I’m deciding to take some time to fika.” A break in France boils down to a quick smoke or coffee break (often solo), whereas in Sweden a break is enjoyed as a group as it should be. Just don’t make the mistake of taking this precious and beneficial habit at face value.
Fika increases productivity
When a company takes the initiative to schedule a break for all employees, everyone can enjoy it (at the same time) without feeling guilty. The result of the collective break is increased productivity. Viveka Adelsward**, a professor at the University of Linköping, one of the largest in Sweden, explains, “Studies show that those who take a break during their workday don’t accomplish less. On the contrary, these get-togethers can be beneficial to work productivity.” Alex Pentland, IT specialist and researcher, who ran studies on work environments, concluded that establishing regular work breaks increased productivity by 10-15% and satisfaction 10%. The ambiance is much more friendly and relaxing with some tea and a pastry in hand. Often, colleagues talk about their work and ongoing projects. Some mention how they are stuck on an issue that others know how to solve. Conflicts that arise in roundtable meetings quickly resolve themselves during a friendly and open discussion in the fikarum (the fika room). One person’s positive or negative experiences can help save another person’s time.
Fika stimulates creativity
The best ideas are the fruit of informal conversations. The feeling of being “outside” of the workplace, free of judgement, favors free expression, and more initiatives are taken when imaginations are allowed to run away. Know-how is shared, skills are developed together, and the energy is almost palpable. “We share information and comment on what’s going on in the company. Levels of management disappear during fika; we’re just there together, no matter our level our position in the company,” explains Viveka Adelsward. A fika break is often more productive than a long, drawn-out brainstorming session since it provides another perspective for clear and successful thinking. A recent study by United Minds*** shows only 9% of new ideas are the fruit of a traditional meeting vs. 54% that are a result of informal conversation among colleagues!
Fika stimulates teamwork
Fika, with a sip of coffee or tea, creates a safe environment where ideas are shared more easily. You can see a neighboring open-space colleague who is reserved in a different, more compassionate light. We discuss, we share, basically, we finally communicate. According to the 2015 Edenred-Ipsos Barometer**** on European employees’ well-being and motivation, 46% of Swedes rated their quality of life at work between an 8 and a 10, on a scale of 10, compared to 32% of French. We now live in an era where spaces are reserved for a mid-day siesta, where Best Places to Work have Chief Happiness Officers who’s only mission is to make employees happy, and where presenteeism is critiqued more and more. What is more precious than solid teamwork and dedication to a common mission, where everyone works together in the same direction, from entry-level to C-suite?
Fika contributes to physical well-being
A sedentary work life reduces productivity. More and more employees are sitting in front of their computers for hours on end leading to built-up tension in their shoulders, blurry eyes, and poor circulation in their legs. Getting up and walking, taking a deep breath, and relaxing in a different position help the body relax, renew and reenergize for the second half of the workday. That’s how fika reduces the feeling of stress and helps staying concentrated back at one’s desk.
Let’s stop the negative thinking about taking a break now, and start making it part of our work culture! The benefits are tried-and-true, real and irrefutable. What are we waiting for to create a fika movement at work? It’s time to contribute to a healthy and productive work environment, especially now that we know separating professional and personal life is key to a better work-life balance. Better work life can be easily attainted, to the benefit of employees and managers alike. Let’s do this!
*Source Grant Thornton, IBR (International Business Report) 2010.
** Transcripts by Gunilla Pravitz, communications officer at Linköping University, on the blog: www.liu.se
***United Minds is a Business Intelligence company from the ad agency Prime Group. Survey from November 2015 on 4044 people from Sweden, Norway, Danemark and Finland.
****Barometer 2015 Edenred-Ipsos on well-being and employees motivation at work : 13,600 employees from 14 European coutries in January 2015.