What are workers in Sweden getting for Christmas from employers this year?

A lavish Christmas banquet and a gift - or nothing. There are significant differences in what employees are getting at work for Christmas, TT's new survey shows.

Christams present
Employees at different workplaces in Sweden are receiving vastly different treatment for Christmas. Photo by Maja Il / Unsplash

In Vilhelmina Municipality, employees will not receive a Christmas present, nor will they have a special Christmas meal.

“A simple consequence of our financial situation,” municipal head Karl-Johan Ottosson said.

During the pandemic, employers who had the opportunity to do so spent a little extra on Christmas gifts, when the ceiling for tax-free gifts was temporarily raised.

But this year the ceiling has been lowered again, to a maximum of 500 kroner. According to Stefan Tengblad, professor of human resource management at the University of Gothenburg, most employers stay within that limit.

“Otherwise, the employees must pay tax on the gift. So it wouldn’t be that popular,” he said.

The tradition of giving a Christmas present can also contribute to strengthening the community in the workplace, according to Tengblad.

“It is quite smart for organizations and companies to use the opportunity to create a stronger relationship between employer and employee,” he noted.

Not getting a Christmas present – for the third year in a row

But not all employers take advantage of the opportunity to give a tax-free Christmas gift to workers.

This is the third year in a row that the employees of Vilhelmina Municipality in Västerbotten have neither received a Christmas present nor Christmas food, due to the municipality’s tight finances.

“In principle, we have a purchasing freeze on everything that is not absolutely necessary. In line with that, we have no Christmas present,” Ottosson explained.

On the other hand, employees in Karlshamn Municipality in Blekinge have received backpacks, cheese trays, or blankets in the last couple of years.

But nowadays, many employers have switched to giving gift cards instead, according to a new TT survey.

In Karlshamn, the municipality may also opt for a 150 kroner gift card.

“Stressful situation this year”

Digital gift cards, where employees can choose between gifts on a web portal, are also popular. Some employers skip Christmas presents and invest in Christmas food or a Christmas banquet instead.

“It can be difficult to find a gift that everyone wants. There is quite a lot of work related to shopping and handing over gifts, which you avoid if you give people a gift card or organize a Christmas banquet,” Tengblad noted.

In recent years, workers were called to a Christmas banquet at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården), but they didn’t get a Christmas present.

But this year, the employees will get both, following a decision by the authority’s leadership: a gift card of 500 kroner, plus a Christmas dinner for approximately the same amount per person.

“We have had a very stressful situation in the agency this year, and our employees around the country have done an excellent job and taken on a great deal of responsibility,” Stina Nyström, HR Director at the Prison Service, said.

Differences between the public and the private sector

Some municipalities have fragile finances, while some private companies make big profits – the opportunities to show employees that they’re appreciated at Christmas are different in Sweden.

“My view is that it can be more lavish in private companies, for example, consulting companies and IT companies,” Tengblad pointed out.

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How much more expensive will Swedish Christmas food be this year?

An independent comparison of around a hundred Christmas food and drink items showed an increase of 14 percent on last year. If you throw in rising energy prices and inflation, it looks like it could be an expensive Christmas in Sweden this year.

How much more expensive will Swedish Christmas food be this year?

Matpriskollen, an independent supermarket price comparison site, carried out the research on behalf of Swedbank, a Swedish bank.

It examined how the price of a standard basket of Christmas goods had changed compared to last year, on the basis of the price of a hundred items popular at Christmas, which included ham, cheese and boxes of chocolates, but also items such as cream and clementines.

The comparison showed that the goods selected had increased in price by around 14 percent compared with last year. The entire basket of items cost around 4,000 kronor this year, up from around 3,500 kronor in 2021.

It wasn’t the traditional Swedish Christmas foods – such as Christmas ham or herring – which had gone up in price the most, but more other items, such as cream and milk.

“It’s things like dairy products which have seen the biggest increase,” Ulf Mazur, CEO and founder of Matpriskollen said. “Sweets haven’t gone up very much, and neither has pork.”

Not just food which has gone up

Swedbank also cited market research by Kantar Sifo, which showed that one in three Swedes planned to be cutting back on the celebrations this Christmas. 

“Many are saying now that they’re going to cut back on the festivities this Christmas, but let’s see how it turns out,” Swedbank economist Arturo Arques said of the survey, which had about 3,000 respondents. 

He pointed out that as well as food, energy prices, interest rates, fuel and much else besides had got more expensive.

“People often say that before Christmas.”

Arques said that Swedbank could already see in its data of card transactions that Swedes had started to buy less. The amount of money changing hands is the same as last year, but inflation means that prices have gone up, bringing a decline in the number of card transactions. 

“It looks like many are cutting down on other expenses to spend money on the Christmas celebrations”, he said.

Despite prices going up and Christmas getting more expensive, most people can still afford it, even if it’s painful, he said.

“Four out of five households have a good buffer. They have money, but are having to prioritise.”

One in five have small buffer

For those who are the worst off financially, the situation is less positive.

“One fifth of households are living with a small buffer or no buffer at all,” Arques said.

This includes pensioners, the long-term ill and single parents, many of whom are women earning less than men, he explained.

“They’re in a really tough situation. Many are saying that they’ll have to cut down on things like holidays. But what can these people cut down on? They’ve never been able to go on holiday.”

Christmas might not be quite so luxurious this year, but the same can be said for almost everything else, given the pressure on the average person’s finances. With the country going into a period of low growth, things are only going to get tighter, according to Arques. 

But he said there were also reasons to look on the bright side. 

“Many households have a buffer. That’s good. We can also see that unemployment is alright, for now. And the state has good finances. That’s good,” he said.