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‘Short e-mails aren't a sign someone is annoyed with you’: New book helps internationals grasp Swedish workplace culture

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‘Short e-mails aren't a sign someone is annoyed with you’: New book helps internationals grasp Swedish workplace culture
Anne Pihl (left) and Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux. Photo: Birgit Walsh
11:50 CEST+02:00
In her new book co-written with Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux, Stockholm-based relocation specialist Anne Pihl attempts to help internationals navigate the tricky world of Swedish working life. Pihl told The Local how she hopes to assist newcomers, and picked out some of Sweden's essential unwritten workplace rules.

You have your own company here in Stockholm that helps internationals relocate to Sweden. How did that idea come about?

I enjoy helping because I’ve been through the experience myself. I know the ropes; the challenges, difficulties and surprises people face after 20 years in Sweden. I was doing it anyway as a hobby, helping people all the time, and thought if I’m doing this as a passion it would be great if I could get paid so I could have it as a full time job.

So I set up the company Relocate to Sweden two years ago, working with a whole spectrum of needs people have. Everything from practicalities like work permits, accommodation, and the things that need to be fixed, to mentoring and helping improve confidence.

Now you have a book out, 'Working in Sweden: The A-Z Guide'. Why did you feel it was worth writing a book entirely on that subject?

The clients we help have moved here for work. So I know people are often very surprised by just how different working in Sweden is – they think it’s a European country and everyone speaks English very well, so how hard can it be?

People are then really surprised by how different things are. There are differences in work culture, and if you get off to a bad start it can be hard to recover from it if you sour your whole impression.

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The idea with the book was to prepare people so they know what to expect, to make their time in Sweden a positive experience, and help them get off on the right foot with their colleagues by knowing what’s normal and acceptable here.

Is working in Sweden particularly complicated compared to other countries?

I know people struggle with all sorts of things at work in Sweden. It’s rarely the job itself; they’re usually recruited, so they know how to do the job. Nor is it English language skills, because most people have that.

It’s more the softer skills and what’s acceptable. Anything from dealing with flat hierarchies and what your role is within that – what’s expected of you when people aren’t micro-managing – to the meeting culture and how things take time.

Or, planning work and allowing for the Swedish calendar, that there will be breaks in the summer and you have to plan around them or wait until people get back. There’s no point in pressuring people, because holidays are sacred here. Likewise, if people need to leave to pick up their kids, that’s acceptable too. There are lots of acceptable reasons for not being at work in Sweden, whereas the expectations are very different to many other countries.

So in many ways the book is about cultural differences people will run into?

It really covers broad work culture and communication, and working confidently. 

So for example: understanding that short, factual e-mails are not a sign someone is annoyed with you. That can be very off-putting if you didn’t know it. It’s these sort of things that, when you move to a new job and are trying to make a good impression in a new country, which is exhausting anyway, if you’re not picking up on the signals or possibly misinterpreting things then it can be really exhausting and demotivating.

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One other example is meetings. There are a lot of them, and you come on time and finish on time. If what you had on your agenda doesn’t get covered within that time, you have to sort another meeting, then possibly another one. That’s normal. So the organizing and planning perspective can be very different.

Finally, what are some of the essential unwritten Swedish workplace rules everyone should know about?

The hard sell doesn’t go down well. How you present yourself in the beginning is important. It’s very different to the American style for example, and it’s a very important difference because first impressions count.

And if a welcome dinner isn’t organized until two months after you start, don’t be offended. That’s just the way it is. Time frames are different.

“Working in Sweden: The A-Z Guide” is available now on Bokus and Amazon.

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