Despite all their hard work, many non-Swedes can feel frustrated in their attempts to be promoted. The feeling can sometimes be that age and Swedishness are more important attributes than traditional diligence and dedication. But this is not necessarily so and sometimes it is just a matter of gaining a better understanding of Swedish work culture.
Johannes Hauptmann, who works for Volvo in Gothenburg, recently got promoted to a management position at the age of 27, proving that youthfulness is not a barrier. As a first step Hauptmann recommends sitting down with your manager and declaring your ambitions:
“Make it clear you want more responsibilities and that you a ready for it,” he says. “Hopefully this will lead to a constructive conversation on what you need to do to earn more responsibilities and by extension a promotion. By doing this you’ve not only made your manager aware of you’re aspirations, you’ve gotten a better idea of what you need to do to achieve them.”
Do not expect to be able to smooth talk your way to a pay rise in one meeting. In Sweden it is not about what you say but what you do, and gaining a promotion will require a long-term strategy of convincing your manager that you’re more valuable than your co-workers. You need to back this claim up with solid facts and not David Brentesque buzzwords. “Swedes don’t like to be hoaxed or misled by people claiming they have achieved more than they actually have,” says Hauptmann, “So be clear and proud of your achievements but stick to reality!”
Alternatively Johannes Hauptmann also recommends a more proactive approach by presenting to your manager your own specific goals and targets that you want to achieve.
“Rather than asking a manager to act, formulate your own plans,” says Hauptmann. This demonstrates drive and initiative. It is important to set goals that are achievable but also ambitious. “The whole point of the venture is to prove you’re capable of performing at a higher level.” But at the same time you don’t want to set yourself up for failure.
Once these targets have been set and agreed upon then it is up to you to deliver. If you can make these targets without neglecting your regular duties then it will be hard for your manager not to promote you.
Historically Swedish workplaces have had a tendency to prioritise age and seniority over ability, and many expats do feel they’ll always be overlooked until their turn comes up. But Hauptmann feels this culture is changing quickly. “Many Swedish companies realise that Sweden’s ‘last-in-first-out’ employment law (known as Lagen om Anställningsskydd or LAS) has kept the older employees and kicked out the young,” says Hauptmann “Now they are in a situation with 90% oldies who will retire soon and have a very hard time finding younger people who can replace them.”
The Swedish economy is changing and the work culture is changing with it. With the right strategy, promotions are attainable regardless of age. “There is more focus on finding and investing in young people…I think the “era of the older” will be history when this recession is over.”
Obviously earning a promotion is not easy. It never is. But in Sweden you have to be proactive and show initiative. “Putting your head down and working hard will not necessarily result in a promotion,” says Hauptmann, “It is what others see that counts – even in Sweden.”