Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Working in Sweden. During the Summer.

I was at work today. And yesterday for that matter. It’s not east coming back from vacation but I managed to get through the day without the jetlag kicking me in the face. Which was nice, because no one likes being kicked in the face.

I work for a pretty small company. I like the smaller companies. To an extent. Sometimes though, I just can’t help but shake my head. At small companies. At Sweden. Especially during the summer.

Let me first say, I love the Swedish vacation system. I have 25 days of vacation. I have friends in the US who have 10. Now, I’m not much of a mathematician, but 25 is way better than 10.

But after having taken 11 days to be in the US, coming back to Sweden was a bit of a shock. I walked in to the office on Monday and was met by four other people. Count me and we were five. By the end of the day we were six.

Today was even worse. We started with four people at work, total. Around 11 we were joined by a fifth, who then left at around three. By five, we were down to just three people in the office.

It amazes me that anything gets done in Sweden during the summer. And actually, not much does get done. There’s only so much four people can do. And working in an international environment makes it even more obvious that the long vacation periods during the summer can, if not cripple a company, it can at least kick it in the nuts.

I remember moving here in June of 2007. If I had to do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t pick June to move to Sweden. I was unemployed and so, like a good unemployed person, I was looking for work. I was applying to jobs constantly. Strangely enough, it took me a while to find a full time job. Now I’m starting to understand why. There was no one around to read my, obviously, stellar CV. That’s résumé for all the non-Europeans out there. There was no one to admire my accomplishments and my ability to brag without bragging too much in my well-written cover letter. Just think what all of those companies missed out on.

I was talking to the old man about this, and he brought up an interesting point. Made even more interesting considering he is the Swedish one and worked in Sweden for quite a long time. As the economic environment continues to become more and more international, how long can Sweden, and some other European countries, continue with the long summer vacations? I don’t know, I just hope it can continue as long as I am still living here.

Welcome to Sweden. And the Swedish summer work schedule.

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  1. yeah, i've heard couple of times from my Swedes friends "we are lazy" maybe they just say it as a joke but certainly there is sth behind it and here we have the same account!

  2. Apologies for being out of the box but still i was wondering how was your experience with the job hunt, with the non-swedish cv and all

  3. The world will have to adept to our wonderful summer schedule of course! They will see the light soon enough!

    Plus we got like 9 months of darkness a year so people would probably start to kill themselves at a much higher rate then now if you had to work all summer aswell.

  4. This depends on what your point of reference is. Maybe they only have two weeks vacation in Japan too (I believe that may be the case). However, if your point of reference is an average European western democracy, then it isn't Sweden that has long vacations, it is the U.S. that has short vacations. There are several countries in Europe with more generous vacations than Sweden. The last time I checked, Germany, the largest economy in Europe, had longer vacations for its workers.

  5. We in North America can learn a thing or two from the rest of the world. We are an over-worked, over-stressed society and you know what, based on my own experience, it is actually counter-productive to work so much. I used to put in up to 60 hours per week and used to stress out over my workload all the time. Now I never work past the regular 40 hour week, I manage my time better, and I actually get more done. Just look at the plethora of health problems that are afflicting us all as a result of work-related stress!

  6. Floridian in FinlandJuly 16, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    Do you have holiday pay in Sweden? I think Finns would riot in the streets before their vacation time gets taken away. At least in Finland, the salaries are lower than in the US, so that should compensate for all of the time we're not at work :)

  7. One day Sweden is gonna have to wake up and open theire eyes and learn how to look outside the box. It's really stupid thow noothing works for so long in the summer.

    Soon someione will figure it oout and come and take over the country... the overnment on vaccation and not really having an army anymore... haha so easy!

    Hope you had a nice time back in the US!

  8. This is an area where I wish the US would become more like Sweden. A whole month off from work in the summer would be wonderful!

  9. In this matter I can only hope the world adapts to Sweden and not the other way around.

  10. Hey man, first of all great blog! I have gone through similar experiences but sort of the other way around. Just came back from the US this week and the vacation part was a hot topic of discussion wih my friends there. Everyone I talked to would definitely prefer to hav 4-5 weeks of paid vacation if possible, but not really to take a pay cut. Are swedes lazy? Not really is my opinion. But you should surely know by now that the systems work differently and enables different opportunities...

    My buddy is a lawyer in a big city in the US and gets 5 days of vacation which is of course ridiculous. But he makes good money so he'll end up taking up to two to three months off when he changes jobs some time next year, without taking a massive financial beating. Another friend runs his own company and decides when to have time off, basically whenever the cash flow allows it. I have a pretty well paid job by swedish standards but don't make that kind of money. Effectively this more or less forces us to use what is given to us. That comes back in a lot of areas, when comparing the US to Sweden, or Europe for that matter.

    I am of course generalizing, but why call people lazy for enjoying time off whe they don't really have a choice? All in all, in Sweden everyone can enjoy a substantial amount of time off whereas in the states the vast majority cannot. So you tell me which is better for respective society taking health costs, motivation etc. into account?

  11. Johan, your US lawyer friend's situation is even more intense than you suggest. I'm a lawyer in a big US city, too. Not only does your friend have very little vacation, he doesn't take it because he can't really. He has to make his billable hours requirement, which is probably around 2000 a year, just to stay employed. You can do the math. To bill 39 hours a week (with no vacation taken, I might add), he has to work at least 60. And that's just his minimum -- most firms expect more than that. He certainly won't get a raise or bonus unless he does. So your friend is probably working 12 hour days, sometimes more. And, working at least one day on the weekend. And, not taking any vacation. And, right now, he probably was just told his salary has been cut, or at least frozen, because of the bad economic situation US law firms are finding themselves in. If he still has a job, as lots of firms are laying off lawyers right now.

    Welcome to big firm law practice in American.

  12. THANK YOU, hairy Swede! For acknowledging my struggles that is. I just moved to Sweden this June (am Swiss but lived in the US for the last 7 years which makes for an interesting intercultural experience). I came here for a job. Which really only starts when our new organization has clients (presumably September). I am leaving for a 2 month gig in the States in a couple of weeks. That was the only thing I could find... it happens to be a sweet opportunity on all accounts so I am not too sad. In the meanwhile I am attempting to get myself set up for my Swedish future. katteverket visists and all that. Some of them are even open... despite summer.

    Love the lakes though. And fika. Thanks for writing!

  13. I don't think 5 weeks of vacation is an issue...the problem is the everybody takes the bulk of it *at the same time*. Though as our European HR manager noted when I brought this up with her last week...there are a number of other European countries that do the same thing. Germany and Spain, for example, tend to have a lot of people on holiday in August.

    For an American though, it really defies imagination that business activity can slow to such a snail's pass for a full month out of the year. I've been working here since 2003 and I'm still stunned by it.

  14. I think that's the most amazing thing about the vacation time in Sweden..the country doesn't seem to suffer for it. Companies still thrive and turn a profit. Look at the brand names coming out of this country: Volvo, IKEA, Sony Ericsson. I could go on...Hey, maybe a little (ok, a lot) of downtime is a good thing to recharge the batteries, productivity and the noggin!

  15. @Mike – yeah, it is impressive, how little they work but still accomplish.

    @Naveed – it was tough. It took me quite a while to get a full time job. I actually had the most luck when I approached companies that I was interested in even if they weren’t advertising a position. But a non-Swedish CV makes it difficult.

    @anonymous – oooh, a good point. Its all in hopes of avoiding mass suicide.

    @anonymous – you’re absolutely right. And so often, my point of reference is the US. That is absolutely amazing that Germany has longer vacations. Anyone have a number of days for the average German?

    @Néstor – Agreed, to an extent. I Think when you get over 5 or 6 weeks, it might be pushing it a bit far. But I also think that two weeks just isn’t enough. Not even close.

    @Floridian – An interesting point, I’ve never actually looked at the average salaries in Sweden as opposed to the US. I suppose it makes sense though that in Finland the salaries might be lower than the US but the vacation more. Suppose it depends on what you value more. Money or time off.

    @Sassa – It can be really frustrating. Especially when you need to get something done. Of course, you may have just given Russia an idea. Man your battle stations. The Russians will be here next July.

    @An Ameican Girl – I can definitely get on board for four weeks of vacation.

    @Fredrik – agreed.

    @Johan – yeah I think 4 weeks of vacation without a pay cut is something that most Americans can agree to.

    Your lawyer buddy is a good example. I actually know a couple of people who have done similar things. They worked their asses off at high paying jobs and then quit after a couple of years and took several months off traveling around on their savings. Maybe not such a bad idea actually.

    And in terms of Swedes being lazy… I’m a little torn. I have worked with too many people here who really do just strike me as lazy. They work because they have to and just skate by. It bothers me. But at the same time, the fact that so much does get done with so much vacation time makes me wonder if I have just experienced an anomaly.

    @Laura – well that sounds miserable. You should quit and travel the world.

    @Marlies – Good luck with the gig in the US! Sounds very cool.

    @Shazzer – ooh a very good point. It is incredibly frustrating when everything shuts own. Being one of the few that seems to be working in July right now, I am a bit torn. While business has slowed just because no one is around, I find myself picking up the slack for all the others who are out of the office. Next time Im taking the bulk of my vacation when everyone else is.

    And that’s how it starts. Because now I am going to be a part of the problem.

    @SwedishJenn – agreed, they somehow manage to do good work.

    After all of the comments I think I’ve come up with a plan. Four to five weeks is perfect. No more than three weeks can be taken during the summer. That way everyone gets to still recharge and the country wont completely shut down from mid June to mid August.

    Feel free to write me in on the ballot next election.

  16. In France we have at least 5 weeks of holidays.
    I could have up to 8 weeks, some in big company have 10 weeks of holidays.
    It's not a problem , it need organisation, and about economy we work less but we earn less, only hourly wages matter.

  17. wow. that is absolutely incredible. I had no idea it could be that much.

  18. Don't worry Hairy Swede, I don't work at a big firm anymore. I work for Uncle Sam, so my hours are much more normal. Probably not like in Sweden, but I have 20 vacation days a year and I generally get to take them. However, if you can figure out a way for me to quit working and travel the world, I'm all ears.

  19. Good work. I hear working for Uncle Sam is usually a pretty sweet gig.

    Ill work on a travel the world plan and see what I can come up with.

  20. Here I am with my numbers and reasonable arguments again.

    Working more, as in 'being in your office a lot', is an American idea I never understood. Swedes actually get a lot done when they work. You need to relax too. Was it Ricardo who performed that little experiment on miners in England in the mid 19th century? They worked 13 hours straight every day. When he gave them 30 mins off for lunch, amazingly, productivity went up! And this despite 1000 people taking half an hour off every day. That's 500 hours gone, and yet more got done.

    Sorry about the sarcasm, but there is something to this. Chinese children now work harder than any other kids in the world in school, yet Sweden has more patents in total. Every year. How much time you put in is not directly correlated to output.

    Finally, Sweden and Finland are the only two countries to have consistently outperformed the rest of the EU the last decade, and the only two EU countries which have performed on a par or above the USA (in terms of GDP growth).

  21. Hey Im all for the vacation. I quite like the system. Although I do think it gets taken to the exreme during thesummer months here in Sweden. Because while more might get done when you get a half hour off at lunch, I can guarantee you more does not get done when 75% of the office is on vacation for three to four weeks during July.

  22. @Hairy Swede: Semesterlagen states that companies have to allow for three consecutive weeks of vacation per employee (in most cases) between July and August or some such nonsense.

    It is, in other words, not Swedes as such that are being lazy and taking off - they generally have to.
    (I.e., imagine an office where 80% of the workforce is away.. it's just not possible for some people to be working in that case)

    Personally, I take 30 - 35 days every year. I'd like to consider myself smarter than the average Swede though, so I go abroad whenever it gets (insanely) cold.

    Right now, I have 38 paid vacation days to "spend". I haven't used any this year due to sick leave, so I could pretty much go on a two month paid vacation and have at least 30 new days after new years.

    Some simple maths tells me that's 68 days of combined vacation, which just so happens to be north of three months of not working a single second. With a bit of planning, that turns into three and a half months.

    Two years ago I had 53 vacation days to spend, plus another 30 after new years...

  23. you've clearly got it figured out. because if I could turn my days into three and a half months. well, I'd do it in a heart beat.