Are Workers Better Off in Sweden?

Increasing workplace engagement, addressing high turnover, and retaining talent are ongoing challenges in many American workplaces. Could it be that the answers to some of today’s more pressing talent management questions, however, already exist but in other parts of the world? Should we  all be looking to the Swedish for workplace solutions? Bear in mind that in 2015, Swedes were the eighth happiness nation in the world (well above the United States, which was ranked 15th on the scale), but somewhat below several other socialist northern nations, including Canada, Norway and Iceland.

Sweden’s Approach to Workplace Happiness

The Swedes, like many Americans, are obsessed with work-life balance but unlike their American counterparts, they appear to be doing a better job striking a balance between work and life. While many people in the United States work well over 50 hours per week, only about 1% of Swedish employees do. By law, in fact, Swedes are given 25 vacation days and many have far more time off. Most notably, the majority of offices are empty after 5 pm, which again is not the case in many American cities where workers often remain in the office far past that 5, even if it is the official end of their workday. Flexible scheduling, free gym passes, and childcare and eldercare support are also common perks in the Swedish workplace. Pia Webb, a career coach in Sweden, explains, “Swedish businesses see the link between health and profitability.” Her book, Improve Your Quality of Life the Swedish Way, Webb offers myriad of tips on how to put the “Swedish way” into practice.

The Six-Hours Workday

While the six-hour workday will not likely become part of Swedish culture, in a recent experiment, the shorter workday was rolled out. Over all, the trial revealed many benefits to introducing a shorter working day. Benefits included healthier staff, a happier work environment and lower unemployment rates, since more jobs had to be created to compensated for the shorter workday. Of course, this is where the experiment also ran into problems. Hiring more workers, after all, is not simply about covering hours of work. Hiring additional workers also means covering additional training and benefits costs. For many Swedish workplaces, the high price tag was too much.

A Swedish Town Proposes Time Off for Sex

BedAs recently reported, at least one Swedish town wants to add a new workplace benefit to the mix: time off for sex. Per-Erik Muskos, a 42-year-old councilman from Overtornea, Sweden, proposed that his local municipality offer its 550 employees the right to subsidized sex. In short, they would receive one hour per week (paid time) to go home and have sex. Of course, the proposal is not entirely foolproof. Would people in fact use it for sex or other activities? How would one monitor this? And if the proposal is primarily designed to drive up Overtornea’s small population (it is currently home to only 4500 people), does this mean that only sex leading to procreation would be admissible? Would gay couples or heterosexual couples beyond their childbearing years be excluded?

Extended Parental Leave for New Moms and Dads

Assuming Overtornea’s hour of paid leave to focus on procreation does work out, Swedish couples need not worry about about happens next.  Over forty years ago, Sweden became the first country to introduce paid parental-leave for mothers and fathers. Under the scheme, 90% of wages are paid for 180 days per child, and parents can divvy up who takes the days. Originally, only 0.5% of dads took advantage of the scheme. Now, close to 90% of Swedish fathers also take a paternity leave. In part, this reflects that fact that the number of paid leave days for a first child is now 480 (up from the originally 18). Also, since 1995, couples who both go on leave even get an additional month (known in Sweden as the “daddy month”) added on to their already extensive leave time.

March 17, 2017   Updated :March 17, 2017      

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