Takeaways from Scandinavia: Valuing Life Outside of the Office

The biggest takeaway from the Business in Scandinavia Travel Course to Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, is that Scandinavians place a higher importance on life outside of the office compared to Americans. This was the most consistent difference that I discovered between the American and Nordic business cultures. In America, maternity leaves are brief, workers often work way over 40 hours a week, and vacation is relatively non-existent for most people. When workers do take vacation, is it expected that they keep in touch and connected with the office remotely. At the very least, most employers expect that the worker should be reachable via email and phone while they are not physically in the office.

Oslo Opera House

Taking time off in American companies is not only looked down upon, it is also deemed as lazy or as shirking off responsibilities. Employees in America who take a longer vacation or maternity leave may risk losing their current position, or missing out on promotion opportunities. Employees who don’t take their vacation days and who shorten their maternity leave are viewed as strong, loyal, and committed, which sets the expectation that other employees should follow suit in order to keep up with the pressure. As a result, employees tend to save up their scarce vacation days, never cashing them in. When they do take a vacation, it is rarely more than a week at a time, due to the pressure and guilt that arises from taking more than one week of break.

Meanwhile, employees in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are encouraged to take their 5 week annual leave. In Sweden, employees tend to take the 5 weeks as a block (which is rare in America) during Midsummer, to celebrate the warm weather with their family and friends. While some may stay connected remotely to their jobs, a much higher percentage of people totally detach themselves from all work activities during this time. While some company cultures may not encourage this, the various companies we met with were supportive of these long breaks. Everyone we spoke with viewed these extended vacations as a necessary part of their summer. Executives described this Midsummer break as a healthy detox, where they could spend quality time with their family and friends and enjoy life outside the office.

In terms of maternity leave, parents can share their maternal and paternal leave to extend the duration. During this crucial time in the newborn’s development, parents in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are supported throughout the process. In addition, the position they left is secured upon their return. Taking a long leave is not looked down upon, it is encouraged. The Scandinavian nations have made it easier for young parents to bond with their new baby without the fear of losing their career trajectory.

Oslo Horizon

In America, this is a major problem that young working parents face. Oftentimes, the mother must choose between leaving her job, or leaving her child for work in the early developmental stages. If the mother decides to take an extended leave, their career could be in jeopardy, and the position they left may be filled. There are laws in place that require employers to give mothers returning from leave a job of a similar caliber, but very frequently these new jobs don’t match up. Once mothers return from leave in America, they are also faced with work-family balance struggles, with many employers not providing a supportive environment conducive to raising a family simultaneously. Parents are expected to work long, inflexible hours in the United States, which is why many mothers end up leaving the work force. Meanwhile, the Scandinavian countries have the shortest work weeks in the world. “Across Sweden, only around 1% of employees work more than 50 hours a week, one of the lowest rates in the OECD, where 13% is the average. By law, Swedes are given 25 vacation days, while many large firms typically offer even more. Parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to split between them. Most offices are empty after 5pm” (Savage, Maddy). Scandinavian companies value life outside of work and support their employees spending time with their families, which are just a two of the many incentives to pursue a career in Scandinavia.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34677949