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Nine reasons Sweden is heaven for employees

You've heard it said - but is it true? Judge for yourself - here are nine reasons why working in Sweden rocks.

Nine reasons Sweden is heaven for employees
Photo: Getty Images

1. A whole heap of holidays

We’ll start with what might be the most obvious one. With five weeks of paid vacation by law and many companies giving employees six weeks, Swedes enjoy plenty of time off work. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for people in Sweden to take off an entire month or more in the summer. You won’t catch them checking work email during that time, either – holidays are sacred.

New to Sweden and interested in insuring your income? Read about the benefits of joining Akademikernas a-kassa

2. Hej då, hierarchy!

(Hej då means bye, FYI…) Swedes love equality. From preschool to university, teachers are addressed by their first names – and a similar force is at play in the business world.

If you work at a Swedish company, chances are you know the CEO personally. You call her (or him) by her first name and nor are you afraid to share your ideas with him (or her).

Of course that applies to gender equality too. Sweden is one the most gender equal nations in the world. And while it’s not perfect, you’ll find the glass ceiling in Sweden is much, much higher than in most other countries.

3. The importance of parenting

Here’s another one you’ve probably heard of: Sweden’s famous parental leave system. Swedish couples receive 480 days of parental leave per child, paid at about 80 percent of their salary. And if that’s not radical enough, at least 90 of those days must be used by the father – ensuring that men also get a chance to be stay-at-home dads. Parents are encouraged to split the leave as equally as possible.

We know of a few companies that even provide company hoodies for newborns before sending employees on their leave!

Photo: Getty Images

4. Awesome a-kassa (unemployment benefit funds, that is)

This one isn’t quite as famous a parental leave and holiday – but it should be!

Sweden has a great system in place to support those who lose their jobs. Those who sign up for membership pay a monthly fee – as low as 140 kronor a month for members of Akademikernas a-kassa, a fund specifically for those with post-secondary education. And then if you should become unemployed, you can get up to 80 percent of your salary (up to a maximum of 26,400 kronor per month before tax. Now that’s a safety net!

Think you could benefit for a safety net for your income? Find out more about how insurance with Akademikernas a-kassa works

5. Strong unions

In some countries ‘union’ can be seen as a dirty word. Not so in Sweden.

Here, there are unions for essentially all branches of work, and about 70 percent of all employees in Sweden currently belong to a trade union. Unions work with employers’ groups on a sector level to agree on conditions that apply across the board, and union-championed perks like a stipend for a gym membership are commonplace. And if a workplace has a “collective agreement” (kollektivavtal), agreed upon with a union, then that agreement applies to all employees – not just union members.

Members of unions frequently get perks like stipends or scholarships to help them learn new skills, too. Depending on the union, this could be anything from learning a new language to taking a class in marketing.

6. You can always learn

Speaking of learning new skills, did you know you can put your job on hold to go back to school?

In Sweden, any person who has been working at a company for at least six months has the right to take a leave of absences for studies. It’s unpaid, but your job will be waiting for you when you get back. That’s all thanks to the Employee’s Right to Educational Leave Act (Studieledighetslagen) of 1974. Booyah!

7. Fabulous fika (and how to do it remotely)

Fika is the Swedish social phenomenon – heavily enjoyed at work – where everyone drops what they’re doing and partakes of coffee and pastries. Many companies provide regular fika for employees in ordinary times.

You don’t want to miss out on some tasty office gossip and an even tastier cinnamon bun just because you’ve been forced to work from home, do you now? If the team fika breaks have ground to a halt during the pandemic, maybe it’s time to suggest staging one via video call. In fact, in Sweden you’re never required to work more than five hours without some sort of break, even if that break is just a ten-minute fika – that’s the law.

Photo: Jenny Jurnelius

Working in Sweden, you also get a real lunch break. Most people take a full hour off for lunch – and may even use it to enjoy some team-building fun. If you’re currently feeling trapped in your apartment while working remotely, use the time to go outside for some fresh air and (hopefully!) some sun.

8. English is everywhere

Granted, there are some jobs where Swedish is a requirement. But generally in Sweden – especially in the big cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg – you can get by just fine on English.

Many Swedish companies already use English as their language of business, and even if they don’t, Swedes are some of the world’s very best non-native English speakers. And if you do want to learn Swedish – which you very well should – chances are you can get paid time off to go to Swedish for immigrants (SFI) classes!

9. No polyester two-pieces

Day in, day out, same old suit in the same old cubicle … this is not a scene you would have seen in Sweden even before you started working from home.

Even in upper-crust lines of work, office attire in Sweden may be a lot more laid-back than what you’re used to. Swedish style is tailored and well-fitted but also very casual: jeans and a blazer is a perfect for both men and women in professional settings.

Loose-fitted denim, oversized blouses, and messy buns are also decidedly “in”, even in many public sector jobs. So, if you return to office working later this year, put the starch away – long live modern minimalism!

Akademikernas a-kassa pays up to 80 percent of your salary if you lose your job – find out more and learn how to join now

For members

WORKING IN SWEDEN

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden's central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

EXPLAINED: Can you negotiate a pay rise in Sweden to offset inflation?

With Sweden’s central bank expecting inflation of nearly 8% this year, everyone working in the country is in line for a real-terms pay cut. We asked Gunilla Krieg, central ombudsman at the Unionen union, what scope there is to negotiate a salary hike to compensate.

How soon can I get a pay rise to compensate for high inflation? 

Probably not for a while. 

About 90 percent of workers in Sweden are covered by the collective bargaining agreements made between employers and the country’s trade unions. The last round of salary deals was negotiated at the union-employer level back in 2020, and most of them will remain valid until March or April next year.

This means that most employees in Sweden will not see their salaries adjusted to take inflation into account for at least nine months. 

“Under this special model that we have, we already have a level for the wage increases for this year, so you can’t get compensation for the inflation right now,” Krieg explained. 

You might be able negotiate a pay rise in addition to what the unions have agreed in your personal salary review, she added. 

“Of course, you have that freedom. Whether you work in a small company, or a big company, a company that has a collective agreement, or one that doesn’t, you always have the freedom to ask for a salary rise,” Krieg said. 

The only issue is that most unionised companies only offer personal salary reviews once a year, and for the majority of employees, the window of opportunity passed in the spring. 

“You have to find out when you have a salary review as part of the collective agreement you have at your own workplace,” Krieg recommended. “For most collective agreements, that is in the spring, although some collective agreements have it in the autumn.” 

What if I’m not part of a union? 

If you are among the 10% of workers not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you can ask for a pay rise whenever you like, but unlike union members, you have no right to a pay rise. The decision is wholly up to your employer. 

Gunilla Krief is the central ombudsman for the Unionen union. Photo: Patrik Nygren/Unionen

So will the unions eventually negotiate above-inflation pay increases? 

Probably not. 

Unions in Sweden have historically been quite responsible, and understood the risk of creating a wage-price spiral by demanding wage increases that match or exceed inflation.

“Twenty-five years ago, we had a really high wage increases in Sweden, and we had very, very big inflation, so people got more money in their wallets, but they couldn’t buy anything, because inflation went up much higher than wages,” Krieg explained, putting the union perspective.

“We always take responsibility for the entire labour market, and that’s good in the long term,” she added. “There’s been much more money in the wallet for employees in Sweden over the past 25 years. That’s why we think we should we should not panic because of inflation. It may be that for one year it will mean less money in the wallet, but in the long run we benefit.” 

Can I argue for an inflation-busting pay rise in my salary review? 

You can certainly argue for a pay rise of 8 percent, or even more, but you don’t cite inflation as a reason for it. 

“Everything is individual, so you can, of course, negotiate up your salary, and there is no limit to how much you can ask for,” Krieg explained.

“If you have a job or an education for which there’s a shortage on the Swedish market, then you can get a much higher wage increase. Up in the north of Sweden, where we have [the battery manufacturer] Northvolt, and we have mines and the steel industry, they are looking for a lot of competence right now, and there you can have a much higher rise in wages.” 

But, particularly if you’re covered by collective bargaining, you can’t really cite inflation as justification, as that is one of the factors that unions and employers are supposed to factor in during their negotiations. 

What’s the best way of getting a big pay rise? 

The best way to get a pay hike of as much as 5,000 kronor or 10,000 kronor a month, Krieg suggests, is to apply for other jobs, even if you don’t end up taking them. 

“You can get offers from other companies, and then you can tell your employer that ‘I really liked it here, I enjoy this work, and I want to stay here, but now they are offering me 10,000 kronor more at another company, and if you can raise my salary like that,  of course I will stay here’,” she said.

In a normal salary interview, she adds, it’s important to be able to demonstrate your results. Look again at your job description, and what your goals are for the year, and identify concrete achievements that meet or exceed these goals. If you have any additional duties, you can cite them to argue for a higher salary. If you’ve done any courses, or learned any skills, you can cite these. 

At any time in the year, if your superiors praise any work you have done, keep those emails, or write it down, so that in your salary review, you can say, “you said that this report I did was ‘the best you’ve ever seen’,” or such like. 

Finally, you should find out in advance if there are any salary criteria being applied, so that you can argue that you exceed them, and so demand a higher raise than that agreed for the company as a whole with the union. 

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