Swedish Business Culture
Did you know about business culture in Sweden? Watch this video animation to find out some interesting facts:
Swedish business culture is characterised by business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, internship and student placements, cost of living, work-life-balance and social media guide.
Sweden is located in Northern Europe on the Scandinavian Peninsula bordering Norway and Finland. It is the third largest country in Western Europe covering 450,000 sq km of which 53% is forests and 9% is lakes and rivers.
The total population of Sweden is about 9.5 million, one fifth of whom are immigrants or have at least one foreign-born parent. The largest immigrant groups are from Finland, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Norway, Denmark, and Poland.
Sweden’s capital city is Stockholm. Sweden’s official language is Swedish, which is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian. Five minority languages are Finnish, Meänkieli, Sami, Romani and Yiddish but English is by far the leading foreign language. In 1995, Sweden joined the European Union but in a 2003 consultative referendum, Swedish citizens declined to adopt the Euro and the currency of Sweden remains the Swedish Krona (SEK).
The official head of the country is the king but the duties of the Swedish monarch as head of state are today purely representative and ceremonial and the country is governed by a popularly elected parliament and government.
Sweden’s economy is highly developed and the country has a high standard of living. The major economic resources are from fisheries, wood, high-grade ore mining, hydroelectric power, and also a strong tourism industry. The most important export goods are electrical and telecom equipment, machinery, crude oil, passenger cars, paper, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, textile products, footwear, iron and steel.
Sweden has one of the world’s highest life expectancies and one of the lowest birth rates. There is an extensive social welfare system, which provides for childcare and maternity and paternity leave, old-age pensions, and sick leave, among other benefits and there is a ceiling on health care costs. These services are paid for by taxation, which is thought to be one of the highest in the world. In terms of income, the wealth distribution in Sweden is one of the world’s most equal ones.
Sweden’s climate is not as extreme as one might think considering the country’s northern location. This is due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream and Norway’s mountains. However, as Sweden’s extreme length is over 1500 kilometers, there is a relatively drastic difference in the climate and the amount of daylight between the northern and southern parts of the country. The Swedish capital Stockholm’s average temperatures range from 17°C in July to -3°C in January. In the northern parts, for example Kiruna, the corresponding temperatures are 13°C in July and a freezing -16°C in January. Stockholm again enjoys 17 hours of daylight in July and 7 hours in January whereas in Kiruna, the sun does not go down at all in July and does not come up at all in January. When it comes to time zones, Sweden is in the Central European Time zone, which means that the time in Sweden in the summer is GMT+2 and in the winter GMT+1.
Xenophobia: being a foreigner in Sweden
Sweden has become a multicultural and cosmopolitan nation over the last few decades. Today about one fifth of Sweden’s population are immigrants or have at least one foreign-born parent. There are almost 200 native tongues among the Swedish population. In general, since the Swedes are used to multiculturalism in their society, they are known to be tolerant towards foreigners.
The Swedish nation also has experience of emigration. In the years from 1851 to 1930 over a million Swedes left the country to emigrate to the United States. This era created a folklore that perhaps helps the Swedes to empathize with the immigrants of today. Most of the immigrants are from the Nordic countries, the former Yugoslavia, Iran and Poland.
International business in Sweden
When doing business in a foreign country you need to be prepared to experience things that are different from those in your own culture. Without proper preparation and planning you may experience ‘culture shock’ that may have a negative influence on the outcome of business dealings. It is understandable that as an active business person you can only invest a limited amount of time into the exploration of cultural differences. Sometimes it is only a few hours after landing in a new country that you find yourself in a meeting room talking business.
Education begins in day care centres and pre-schools, which the overwhelming majority of Swedish children attend, it then continues with the nine-year compulsory school and the voluntary upper secondary school, which again practically all Swedish youngsters attend. After secondary school, students can apply to universities and university colleges where it is possible to study both academic and more professional and vocational degrees.
One of the foundations of Sweden’s welfare system is free access to education for everyone. Most children in Sweden attend day care centres and pre-schools, where education begins. After that, there follows nine-years of compulsory schooling which is in turn followed by the voluntary upper secondary school which almost everyone attends.
An interesting factor from an international perspective is that college and university education are also funded by the government and therefore are practically free for the students. In addition to this, even people from poorer backgrounds are able to attend university as studying is well supported by grants and study loans. However, from 2011 onwards, higher education has only been free for citizens of EU/EEA and Switzerland.
Not only is the Swedish education system exemplary, but private businesses also often offer systems that encourage and enable self-improvement and further education.
As Sweden is a highly developed country, there is an ever increasing need for advanced knowledge, and that is why investing into research is seen as investing in the future of the country. Sweden is known for its strong pedigree in R&D programmes, where the private and public sectors often work together towards ambitious goals.
Workforce mobility in Sweden is comparable to that of Finland. The other Nordic countries Denmark and Norway however, have higher levels. Just as in Finland, the number of temporary workers in Sweden is very high. The Swedish problem does not end here; Swedes that are temporarily employed find it very challenging to move on to permanent employment. Most people on temporary contracts are young people, foreigners and those working in the service industries. From the employees’ perspective the good thing about Sweden is that together with Norway it has the greatest level of employee protection of all the Nordic countries.
Although Sweden represents a generally open culture, there do exist some issues that are best avoided, particularly at the beginning of a relationship.
- Swedes avoid arguing, especially with visitors. If a discussion appears to be turning into an argument, do not be offended if a Swede abruptly changes the subject.
- Do not use a lot of superlatives when speaking. The Swedes are opposed to stretching the truth. The marks of rank or status are disliked.
- Do not get too personal. Topics like family, income and personal background should be avoided.
- Swedes are very proud of their society, so it is wise not to criticize their way of life, welfare system, economy, government or culture.
- Racist or sexist jokes are not tolerated.
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