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Things That Surprised Me About the Swedish Workplace

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1. “The train was late” is a perfectly valid reason for coming to work late.

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SWEDEN:
This isn’t because Swedes don’t care about getting to work on time. It’s simply because Swedes agree the trains can be unpredictable (especially during the winter months!). Coworkers/the workplace are incredibly understanding when it comes to the trains.



Swedish Workplace - Train

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US:
This is a stark contrast from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is stated to have the 2nd worst traffic in the US (behind LA) and unfortunately is where I have spent most of my time driving. The traffic often takes people new to the area by surprise, as it isn’t uncommon for traffic to halt you indefinitely, with rush hour ranging from about 6am-10am and 3pm-8pm daily.



San Francisco Bay Area Traffic

Although traffic in the Bay Area can be unpredictable, employees are still expected to accommodate for unforeseen delays and make it to work on time. (Depending on the company, tardiness once in a while is okay, but generally, traffic isn’t seen as a valid excuse for being late.)


2. Official company documents “apologizing” for wall-to-wall carpeting.

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SWEDEN:
In general, carpets don’t make much sense to Swedes, so there are often ‘official’ explanations given for carpeting, such as noise reduction and dust reduction.


swedishworkplace-walltowallcarpeting

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US:
In the US, carpeting is the norm in large areas of most homes and isn’t surprising to find in many offices, so it was a big cultural difference to see official statements explaining carpeting in the workplace!




3. It isn’t uncommon to see children/babies in the office.

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SWEDEN:
People in the US sometimes bring their children or newborns into the office, but it doesn’t seem to be as commonplace as in Sweden, where newborns may join their parent in a welcome-back-from-parental-leave HR meeting.


Swedish Workplace - Bringing Children to Work

This isn’t a gender-specific phenomenon either. Both men and women take parental leave – Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of leave, with 90 days reserved for the father.


I saw men bringing baby backpacks (maybe there’s another term for this?) to gamedev social events, as well as to the office! Since parental leave is so commonplace among both men and women, there seems to be zero stigma of integrating family life into work and social lives.




4. People are afk a lot!

This is due to an emphasis on work-life balance.


Some of these “perks” are now being incorporated into Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook.


However, in Sweden, perks such as vacation time and paid time to take care of kids are widespread among the general population and aren’t limited to a select number of companies.


  • Vacation Time

    Swedish Flag Icon
    SWEDEN:
    Swedes are entitled to 25 works days of vacation time, meaning Swedes are generally away at least 5 weeks each year! (It can be tough to job hunt in Sweden during the summer, since many offices are away on vacation.)

    Swedish Workplace - Vacation Time


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    US:
    This is a big difference from the US, where full time employees have an average of 10 vacation days after working at a company for a year. In fact, 25% of workers in the US have ZERO days of paid time off. This depends greatly on the company and the amount of time an employee has been working there, but generally, Americans receive at most 2 weeks of vacation.


  • Parental Leave

    Swedish Flag Icon
    SWEDEN:
    I already mentioned that Swedish parents are entitled to 16 months! (480 days) of leave, with 3 months (90 days) reserved for the father. Swedes receive 80% of their salary during parental leave.


    American Flag Icon
    US: Swedish Workplace - Parental Leave
    A couple states are starting to introduce paid paternity leave (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island), but largely, the US has limited options for fathers wanting to take time off when their children are born, with some fathers using sick days or vacation time. Generally, paternity leave in the US is unpaid.


  • Time Off to Care for Sick Children

    Swedish Flag Icon
    SWEDEN:Swedish Workplace - VAB Take Care Of Sick Kids
    In addition to paid parental leave for both parents, Swedes also receive compensation for caring for sick children (known as VAB). Parents receive a little less than 80% of their regular income for staying home with a sick child.


    American Flag Icon
    US:
    In contrast, nearly 50% of US employees do not have any sick days available to take care of their children.




  • 5. People apologize for speaking Swedish.

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    SWEDEN:
    Swedes have an incredible talent for switching from Swedish to English mid-sentence when they realize an English-speaker is listening. They almost always apologize for speaking Swedish in the first place, since the English-speaker may have missed a few words of the conversation. There seems to be strong culture of inclusion in Sweden, where people genuinely feel bad for unintentionally excluding an English-speaker from a conversation.


    In the workplace, Swedes see it as even more important for non-Swedish speakers to understand what is being said. In addition, Swedes want to ensure people feel they are valued members of the team. Thus, English-language use is seen as essential in workplaces.


    Japanese Flag Icon
    JAPANESE WORKPLACE:
    I worked in a Japanese/English bilingual office in San Francisco, and it was perfectly normal to have meetings in Japanese (although many of people in the office didn’t know any Japanese). Japanese LanguageIt was normal to have someone act as an interpreter at smaller meetings and company-wide meetings.


    (I took Japanese lessons on my own so I could converse more with the Japanese-only speakers in the office.)


    6. Many Swedes have military training, a real benefit for game developers!

    Swedish Flag Icon
    SWEDEN:
    Military training was required in Sweden until 2010. This means that a whole lot of Swedes have a military background. As you can imagine, this can come in quite useful in game development! They already know a great deal about military equipment, strategy, training exercises, etc.


    Swedish Workplace - Military TrainingMilitary equipment is used in a lot of games, and when you have someone on your game development team who has gone through military training, there’s no guesswork in determining which equipment, etc. is the most realistic for your game.


    About the author

    Currently working on simulation game “In the Heart of Borneo.”

    Designer & Programmer
    Golden Moose Collective

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