The American concept of a coffee break sometimes feels like something of a misnomer in that the "break" aspect means little more than heading to a coffee shop or cart, getting a tall/venti/whatever size to-go cup of coffee and returning to your desk.
The hustle-and-bustle expectation of the American workday isn't really built for an actual break, but the Swedish workday is constructed with such breaks in mind, and there's even a word for it: fika.
Break into a fika
The Swedes prefer not to translate fika, according to the country's official website. The main reason is that the simplest of translations doesn't do it justice. While fika (pronounced fee-ka) loosely means "have coffee," the concept is much more than sipping on some coffee in between tasks at your desk. This Swedish social institution is a pause in the day, a way to reset and catch up with the goings-on of colleagues, meet with friends or even have a date over coffee (or tea) and a baked good.
"A fika where everyone joins in is important for a workplace, business administrators have demonstrated this," Linköping University communications researcher Viveka Adelswärd explained in an article. "It provides a break in the work, and both employers and employees get a lot out of it. During that time, we often talk about our work and find out what's going on in the organization. We sound each other out and let a little of our private lives come out, which can create sympathy for colleagues who are having a tough time at the moment and are acting accordingly."
Before you suggest that taking all these breaks ruin productivity, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that Sweden ranked 11th in productivity in 2014, which is none too shabby.
'We meet under informal circumstances, exchange information and comment on what’s happening. The hierarchy breaks down during the fika; we're all in it together regardless of power and position,' Viveka Adelswärd explained about the benefits of fika. (Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)
"The fika break that we have twice or thrice a day makes us more productive and efficient," Lars Åkerlund, who opened his own Swedish coffee chain in New York and named it after the ritual, told Quartz.
Åkerlund relocated from Sweden to New York City in 2001, and opened his first Fika cafe in 2006. They serve coffee in a Swedish style and house-made chocolates.
"Everyone was in a rush, grab-and-go, there was no calm moment," he said of living in New York. "Then I thought the 'fika moment' would be a success here."
Nine more stores are scattered around Manhattan now, so at least New Yorkers can appreciate a little fika in their day — which is good news for the tradition since it may not be too attractive to the younger crowd.
A 2016 Business Insider article reports that fika isn't on the radar of younger Swedes and isn't a part of contemporary culture.
"Fika is something I do when I go visit my 99-year-old grandmother," one young member of Business Insider Nordic explained. "It's not something young people do on a regular basis."
But they may want to reconsider. As Adelswärd explained, the break is a valuable one.
"It gives us a brief respite. We get a chance to blow the dust off our brains, fill them with inspiration from others and have an opportunity to test our thoughts and ideas."
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