If you’re not from Sweden, chances are you won’t be familiar with the word fika. However, if you were to visit Sweden at some point, you would probably hear it on a regular basis. So, what is fika? In lack of a better phrase, Swedes coined this one, which literally means to sit down and have coffee, alone or with company. Of course, you could have other drinks, like tea, or any other non-alcoholic beverages. However, coffee became a synonym for fika. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to outsiders what it represents since many observe at it as a coffee break. However, it’s much more than that. It’s a way of living, and it’s a tradition. In a way, fika embodies Swedish culture. Swedes are famous for being one of the happiest nations in the world, and this custom plays an integral part in keeping them that way. So, what are some things we can all learn from this amazing national ritual? Here are some things to pay attention to:
Tradition is important
People usually associate coffee consumption with countries like Italy, Columbia or Turkey. Sweden is rarely on that list. However, coffee drinking tradition is deeply rooted in Sweden. And in all the countries that have a strong coffee culture, different views exist on how this beverage should be consumed. Italians drink their espressos or cappuccinos in the morning. Turks drink their coffee after meals, and they always have it strong and black, accompanied by sweets. People from the United States, on the other hand, do not savor their coffee and take it on the go. This trend has spread across many countries in western Europe, mostly due to the modern way of life and hectic schedules.
However, Swedes have a tradition, and they are not willing to give it up just yet. In some aspects, it is similar to the English tradition of having tea in the afternoon. It’s just not that well known across the globe. As mentioned before, fika would translate to „drinking coffee.“ However, it’s not just that. Its something so common that most people will have it at least daily. It doesn’t matter whether it is a cappuccino, an espresso or it is made with a capsule coffee machine – most Swedes cannot imagine their lives without coffee. The primary principle of fika is taking a relaxed coffee break, while having some snacks, like cookies or buns, along the way. Fika also has an active social component, as it allows people to sit down with their friends and colleagues leisurely, and slowly sip away their favorite beverage. So, drinking coffee in a rush is definitely not fika.
Large companies in Sweden concluded that relaxed employees are the most productive ones. And there’s no better way to unwind and loosen up than with fika. That’s why many companies in Sweden, or at least in major cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo, made fika mandatory for their employees. That means there are designated times of the day when workers are obliged to take a break. Studies conducted showed that having more breaks doesn’t hinder productivity. On the contrary, regular pauses boost productivity and overall satisfaction by at least 10%. According to research conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Sweden comes in 12th place in the list of most productive countries.
Also, they concluded that the employees feel more relaxed and willing to discuss projects in such a laid-back environment. So, when any disagreements occur, it is easier to handle them over coffee in the fika room.
Swedes usually have time off twice during the workday, once around 9 AM and second time around 2 PM. Even though people started having those breaks at their desks, it’s customary to sit down outside of your workplace. So, fika became an inseparable part of the day, just like any other work-related activity. And rightfully so!
While increasing productivity is a significant benefit of fika, one even greater is that it helps to avoid burnout. It’s easy to get distracted and to forget to slow down. Some people are also afraid that they’ll lose train of thought if they pause for a while. In some countries, overworking is even encouraged. However, Swedes know better!
Researchers say that people generally have an insufficient amount of concentration over more extended periods. Going over the limit inevitably leads to exhaustion and fatigue, which in turn hurts the business. These studies also show that employee’s concentration slowly deteriorates sometimes from 9 AM to noon, and from 2 PM to 3 PM, so it is only logical that fika breaks are scheduled around this time.
However, the quality of these breaks is equally important! If you were to instantly turn on your social media, or start performing any other mindless task, you wouldn’t feel reinvigorated or stimulated to carry on your duties in a satisfying manner. So, even a 15 or 20-minute break can shift your focus, make it easier for you to reexamine your tasks, and pick up your work where you left it. Obviously, tiredness in the workplace cannot be avoided entirely. However, rituals like fika can help lessen the effects of stressful situations and tasks.
It fuels creativity
According to studies about the effects of regular breaks on creativity, it is essential to schedule some time off and to refuel. It is inevitable to feel stressed and exhausted if you’re continually working and avoiding breaks. Being overwhelmed continuously by work responsibilities and problems can make you have a creative block! It’s no wonder people say that the best ideas come to them in the most unusual places, like in the shower or when running. That is because our brains are wired to react better to change. However, it crucial that these breaks are structured and not taken randomly.
Fika is an excellent instrument in reaping the benefits of structured breaks. These informal meetings often lead to fruitful new ideas and information. It’s likely that the sense of not being evaluated and judged can lead to a boost of inspiration. People are more inclined to express themselves freely and to take the initiative when they’re detached from their workplace. Fika is often used to discuss current events in the company, and to share relevant information. However, it’s nothing like a formal staff meeting. During fika, everyone’s the same, the management and the employees. So, in a way, fika is like one casual brainstorming session!
It boosts teamwork
The safe environment that fika creates is a great way to nurture healthy and prosperous collaboration. Having a cup of coffee with colleagues can give you a chance to look at them from a different angle. These sessions are a platform where coworkers communicate and share ideas, and where they strengthen the bonds between them. It’s easier to have open communication when you’re talking in a non-formal setting. These meetings ultimately help to remove the obstacles between the employees.
Fika can be viewed as a daily team building activity. And all teams are made out of entirely different personalities. A healthy environment helps to promote the atmosphere of companionship and support. When having these daily coffee breaks, it is easier to establish individual strengths and weaknesses or to acknowledge someone else’s skills and virtues. Finally, a company’s primary objective should be maximizing output and raising efficiency, which is impossible without open communication and clear corporate mission and goals. So, incentives like fika can be a tremendous way to encourage and promote teamwork as a means of improvement.
Better physical health
The number of people leading a sedentary work life has increased over the years. With this particular lifestyle, many dangers lurk around the corner. Sitting at a desk for hours and hours can lead to some severe health issues. Human bodies are not meant to work that way, and there are numerous health problems associated with this way of life, such as obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, many cardiovascular diseases, back pain and many more. Getting up and taking a break can every couple of hours should help immensely in improving blood circulation and overall health. That’s is where fika steps in! Even though you might go and sit for a coffee with your friends and colleagues, you are still forced to leave your desk and walk to the designated fika room, which alone will make you improve your posture and stretch for a bit. Also, you’ll become aware of the benefits of getting up and leaving your desk once in a while.
It’s going global
Although it is one of the most beloved Swedish traditions, fika has recently found its way into other countries. Slowly, but steady, people are embracing this fragment of the Nordic lifestyle. This is mostly due to Swedish expats who decided to open fika shops and offer a fresh perspective on life to people in the USA, United Kingdom, and Australia. In New York city, first fika coffee shop was opened in 2006, and currently, there are 17 cafes. There are also successful cafes working in London and Sydney.
One thing in common for all these establishments is that they do not merely offer coffee, they provide an experience. Owners wanted to encourage their visitors to savor the moment and enjoy their coffee and relax in a good company. At first, it was hard getting people who were used to drinking coffee on the run to take a pause. Their first guests were mostly Swedes. However, now more and more customers come in intending to get a unique experience, different from those they get with big coffee franchises.
Leading chaotic and time driven lives can take a toll on a person’s well being. Now, when seemingly every second counts, it’s crucial to make some time for yourself and to reflect. And what better way to do that than by taking up this fabulous Swedish tradition? There’s a reason Swedes are amongst the happiest and most productive nations in the world. Fika is a way of life, and it’s a tradition that appreciates self-nurturing and inspires mindfulness. Thus, it allows you to slow down a couple of times a day, shift your thoughts away from your duties, and to appreciate the present moment. It’s no wonder that people from all over the world are starting to welcome this tradition as a method of relaxation. So give yourself the opportunity to enjoy this social phenomenon, and to become a happier, more productive person in the process!
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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.