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Swedish Business Etiquette – 10 essential tips for your international colleagues

Sep 14, 2016 anne_pihl
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Every country has its own set of business etiquette rules and Swedes also have their own way of doing things. Here’s a list of helpful tips for anyone who’s moving to work in Sweden – AKA “My top 10 mistakes in Sweden”.

1. Show up on time
Punctuality is key in Sweden. Make sure you show up on time for meetings or preferably a few minutes early. This is also true for networking events where the concept of arriving a polite 10 or 20 minutes doesn’t exit. People tend to come a little early and don’t hang around after the scheduled part of the event.

2. Coffee counts
Many work places operate a weekly or even daily coffee break (called “fika”) which is a very important part of Swedish office culture. This is where you get to socialise with your colleagues and catch up on important office news in an informal way. Make sure you attend. It’s OK to excuse yourself occasionally if you have an important meeting or deadline but regular absence will not go down well with your colleagues. If you don’t drink coffee, learning to like it is strongly recommeded!

3. Keep your distance
Swedes have a great need for personal space. In practical terms, this means that you shouldn’t sit directly next or even close to someone if there are more seats available. Approach Swedes like you would a cat – slowly and carefully, as they scare easily.

unnamed”This is when you know that a Swedish bus stop is full and you need to stand”
Credit: The Social Guidebook to Sweden, Julien S. Bourrelle and Nicholas Lund

4. Silence is not social death
Don’t feel pressure to fill the gaps if there is silence while waiting for a meeting to start, or even during a meeting. Swedes don’t generally have a big line in small talk and will speak when they have something to say. As uncomfortable as silence may seem to you, it is infinitely more comfortable to many Swedes than forcing them to engage in small talk. Just ensure you always have your phone with you so you can appear busy and avoid possible awkwardness.

5. Keep it low key
This applies to a whole range of subjects from how you dress to how you speak. Try not to stick out in any way by keeping things understated and neutral. Appearing any way boastful, raising your voice or using animated body language do not go down well with most Swedes. Even compliments should be paid carefully and not overdone. Becoming emotional is considered to be an embarrassing mistake and is generally considered to be “hysterical” behaviour – a serious business etiquette mistake. In short, you need to come to terms with the Swedish concept of “lagom”.

6. Don’t rush to invite
When eating lunch or having ”fika” with colleagues, you are not expected to offer to pay. Everyone expects to pay their own way and far from being appreciated, offering to pay may make your colleagues uncomfortable and under obligation. The same applies to after work drinks – taking turns to buy rounds of drinks is not the norm. Swedes also usually keep their work and private lives separate so wait to be invited to after work activities rather than suggesting it yourself.

7. First names please
Swedish workplaces are far less hierarchal than most other countries and it’s normal to call all your colleagues, including your bosses, by their first names. This should not, however, be confused with being well acquainted with them – the relationship is still formal and topics of conversation should be limited accordingly.

8. Business casual rules
Smart casual is seldom wrong in Swedish offices when it comes to dress code. Most work places do not require suits and ties or the female equivalent. Smarter looking jeans are also commonly worn together with a jacket and shirt/blouse. Think understated. If you really want to fit in, edit your wardrobe to the standard Swedish muted tones of black, grey and navy.

9. Patience pays off
Swedes are master planners and love to plan ahead, which means that any new initiative has to be scheduled for discussion and execution and will therefore take time. Swedish business culture also embraces the democratic decision process. Compromise and consensus rule, which usually makes for a drawn out process. Don’t try to rush things and your patience will eventually pay off.

10. Holidays are sacred
It’s normal to take 3 weeks holiday or more in the summer time and many businesses operate on a skeleton staff or shut down entirely in July, the biggest holiday month. Swedes expect their holidays to be respected and if things don’t happen before the holidays, you will just have to wait until everyone is back at work.

Relocate to Sweden provides expert advice and hands-on help for companies recruiting internationally or transferring staff to Sweden. We help your international recruits with the entire relocation process including work and residence visas, home finding, tax consultancy, registration with Swedish authorities, schools, health care, translations, language and intercultural training. Email us at info@relocatetosweden.com or call us on +46 8 361011 if you would like help. You can also read more about our relocation services at www.relocatetosweden.com or follow us on social media for tips and advice.

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