I have had the wonderful opportunity of working for a medical consulting company that focuses on helping Swedish and European medical companies enter the market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and establish successful relationships. Based upon my internships in the United States and lack of consulting experience, I assumed I wouldn’t have a chance to meet with clients or have any meaningful impact beyond filing papers. To my great surprise the work culture I have experienced has been like nothing I’ve seen in the United States. I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of meetings with partners and clients, which have involved traveling throughout Stockholm with my boss to visit different businesses. In the office, I work with both their data base and different marketing materials. Additionally, I have been invited to travel abroad with my company to help with a major event, something that made me feel like the work I did was important and appreciated.
Here are the things I found to be the biggest surprises while interning in Stockholm:
I have found breakfast seminars to be extremely popular here in Sweden, and within a month have attended three of them. A company will provide both a speaker relevant to their field as well as breakfast to a number of attendees (clients, employees, or partners). The breakfasts usually begin at 7:30 am and conclude at 9:00. Breakfasts seem to always include sandwiches (it almost feels wrong as an American to eat a turkey sandwich that early in the morning), smoothies, and coffee. Along with breakfast seminars, all offices have a kitchen with an extensive eating area for their employees where they often eat breakfast together outside of the occasional seminars. This may mean earlier mornings, but is a great way to connect with colleagues outside of normal business interactions.
Everything seems to center around coffee here in Sweden. Almost every day at work (and certainly every meeting we have) begins with a fika. A ‘fika’ here in Sweden is a type of coffee/pastry break one would share with their colleagues or friends.
‘Jantelagen’ is a Swedish word that describes a disdain from standing out of the crowd. It is especially prominent in the work place, though recently it has begun to dissipate. A company will not want to stand out from others and, will thus, keep their office space very modest and not too flashy. My boss told me of a marketing company who was run out of business for attempting to think too far out of the box regarding their office space and marketing tactics. When taking a client or partner out to dinner you never want to take them somewhere too nice, for it may come across as if you are showing off how wealthy your company is or as a bribe. Even office dress is prone to ‘jantelagen’. People tend to not have certain brands or clothing that is too flashy. It is beginning to become a more welcoming environment now, but a few years ago you could forget about wearing designer brands into the office.
I thought it was important to mention how many dogs I have seen in offices here in Sweden. While there may be none at the office I work at, it is not bizarre at this point to see one sleeping quietly underneath someone’s desk while visiting their workplace.
Finally, I wanted to emphasize how warm I have found the office culture here to be. Everyone is looking out for one another and there seems to be less stress and competition. My boss wants me to only work on tasks that I enjoy doing, otherwise what’s the point? The other day my boss gave me a hug before I left a meeting to go to class – something that was probably normal to her, but meant more to me than I think she knew.