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Back To Blog > Should we Introduce Swedish “fika” Breaks in the Workplace to Improve Mental Health?


This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

There are a lot of things the UK and the wider western world stand to learn from Scandinavian culture. Countries like Sweden are similar enough to our own that parallels can be drawn, and yet operate so differently at a governmental and cultural level that there are several interesting differences that draw attention to problems in the UK and point towards potential solutions. One of these is the culture of fika in Sweden, which may be part of the answer to solving the problem with workplace health, mental health, and stress we have in this country.

Fika is a culture of coffee breaks that is universally known and beloved among the people of Sweden. As Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall say in Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, “Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that’s what fika is all about.” Essentially, fika represents a culturally ingrained understanding of the importance of taking breaks during the working day and enjoying the small pleasures of a hot drink, a baked good, and a moment to breathe, either with some quiet introspection alone, or with the social company of friends or co-workers. Fika culture is likely to be one reason why Sweden tends to show less stress in its working population than the UK; one 2019 study found that 34% of UK adults answered yes when asked if they experienced stress a lot the previous day, whereas only 29% of swedes answered in the affirmative to the same question (1).

While coffee and tea are both popular in the UK, Sweden far exceeds us in terms of coffee consumption (2). However, more salient than the difference in the amount of coffee consumed is the manner in which it is taken. Fika culture dictates that most professionals make time for two breaks during the working day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In contrast, while the idea of a coffee or tea break is not completely unheard of in the UK, caffeinated beverages here tend to be consumed alongside work as opposed to being thought of as a break from it. Caffeine is widely viewed as a fuel to help keep us awake and focused, instead of something that is to be savoured and enjoyed during a pause in the 9-5. Therefore, the cultural significance of caffeinated drinks is very different in the two countries. Swedish workers can always look forward to a moment of calm during the day in their fika breaks, whereas many British workers do not have the same luxury, and making a tea or a coffee may be more akin to 5 minutes of desperate breath-catching before being forced to return to the rat race. The relegation of caffeine to its own time and place punctuates the working day and helps to reduce feelings of being overburdened and overstressed.

Fika, and similar break cultures, have been noted to have many positive effects in the workplace. Not only do they help to relieve stress and punctuate the working day to make the hours seem shorter, as we have previously noted, but they also increase productivity once workers make it back to their desks, according to various studies (3). Furthermore, since fika is often taken with co-workers, the breaks provide an opportunity to not only socialise, but also network, build camaraderie, and increase people skills which are essential for effective leadership (3). Fika is also a clever solution to the well-known post-lunch slump. Humans are biologically predisposed to become fatigued after a midday meal and it is widely known in management that the period directly following lunch almost always signals a significant dip in productivity. In Spain, the siesta serves to rectify this issue by relegating that time for a nap and a break, increasing productivity later in the afternoon, but fika breaks represent an alternative and less radical solution that could still have significant beneficial effects on afternoon activity by providing a break and a caffeinated beverage to keep employees going. Also, it’s common for professionals to leave the office to take fika in a coffee shop, which reduces feelings of being cooped up in the same building all day and leads to a happier and more productive workforce. 

It may not have escaped your notice that many of the benefits of fika in Sweden would not be unwelcome in UK office culture. Here, one in nearly seven people experience mental health problems at work, and perhaps relatedly, a third of UK workers report not leaving their desks at all during the work day (4). Implementing fika breaks, and their encouragement by management, could be an effective way to give UK workers some time away from their desks, punctuate their day, reduce stress, and allow for some much-needed socialising. The current pandemic has thrust into light issues with work culture in this country, with many people being suddenly forced to work from home for the first time. Eventually, we will all be heading back to the office, and when that time comes, it will be a perfect moment to re-evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Introducing two daily fika breaks could go a long way towards remedying many of the issues professionals have in the modern day. So the next time you feel stressed at work, give yourself some time, head out to a coffee shop, get your favourite hot drink and pastry, and partake in the Swedish tradition that is enjoyable, refreshing, and undeniably good for your mental health.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health and safety, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. Atlas & Boots. Most stressed countries in the world [Internet]. Atlas & Boots. 2019 [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: https://www.atlasandboots.com/most-stressed-countries-in-the-world/
  2. The World’s Top Coffee Consuming Nations [Internet]. [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: https://weaverscoffee.com/blogs/blog/the-worlds-top-coffee-consuming-nations-and-how-they-take-their-cup
  3. Mesh J. Boost Your Team’s Productivity With This Swedish Coffee Break [Internet]. [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: https://blog.trello.com/team-productivity-fika
  4. Should we introduce ‘fika’ breaks in the workplace to improve mental health? [Internet]. Metro. 2019 [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: https://metro.co.uk/2019/12/13/introduce-swedish-fika-breaks-workplace-improve-mental-health-11555569/
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