It's a sentiment I hear a lot from people who have just moved to Sweden, or gotten their first Swedish job – 'Between the coffee breaks, the meetings, and leaving by 5 every day, how does anything get done?'
And that is when they put it nicely. Other words like lazy, uninterested, and slow have come up in certain conversations with unhappy expats.
So what's the deal? Is Sweden a country of not-so-hard workers? Is that why the hospitals close for the summer? Why most pharmacies shut down by 6 (Duane Reade where ARE you)? Even some companies shut down their entire production line for weeks due to employee vacations?
As someone who is very not-a-type-A personality, even I struggle with the 'take it easy – you shouldn't stress' attitude. My retired neighbor always yells at me to 'slow down' as I am racing out the door to meet a client. I would LOVE to slow down, but if I am meeting with a Senior Manager at a large company, I don't want to be late.
So what is the truth about the situation? Are Swedes lazy? Is work just a way to pass the time before they get to hang out at home?
Most Swedes will tell you they are far more effective during the 8 hours they are at work than any American could possibly be after 10 hours at the office. No one could possibly work well on little sleep, being stuck in a cubicle all day, and working non-stop.
Sometimes I have a hard time swallowing this argument. I know a lot of people that work damn hard and get a lot done in their 10 – 12 hour workdays. But I do wonder if these companies might benefit more if people did slow down and go home at 5, even if the work wasn't done. Happy, healthy employees who like the company they work for are an asset for the long-term.
But considering the amount of flack unionized automakers are getting in the current economic climate, workers with padded benefits like longer vacations, dental plans and great health insurance, I don't think we will see a change there soon.
On the other side of things, more and more Swedish white collar workers are taking their jobs home with them, answering emails and making phone calls after hours, catching up while on the commute to work. Things are changing, you just have to look for the subtleties. But I really hope Sweden doesn't become much more like America when it comes to work habits.
I have gotten a bit spoiled. I mean, really, if you had a choice, which one would you opt for, non-stop work and little time for a life or a comfortable work-life balance?