Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work - Kanebridge News
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Sweden Has a Caffeinated Secret to Happiness at Work

Workers and bosses alike are trying to figure out ways to reinvigorate work life. Could a cherished Swedish coffee ritual be the answer?

By ANNE MARIE CHAKER
Wed, Feb 7, 2024 9:32amGrey Clock 4 min

Would work be better if we all took a collective coffee break?

Workers in Sweden certainly think so. There, work life has long revolved around fika, a once- or twice-a-day ritual in which colleagues put away phones, laptops and any shoptalk to commune over coffee, pastries or other snacks. Swedish employees and their managers say the cultural tradition helps drive employee well-being, productivity and innovation by clearing the mind and fostering togetherness.

Now, as bosses and workers elsewhere try to reinvigorate office life and flagging job satisfaction, fika fascination is seeping into other workplaces.

The Grand, a New York-based career and leadership coaching platform, summons its all-remote staff of 10 every other Friday for coffee and conversation over Zoom. London-based Hubble, a website for finding flexible workspaces, took up the tradition after being introduced to it by a Swedish staff member.

“Everyone has an excuse to log off and let their hair down,” said Tushar Agarwal, chief executive of Hubble, where staff gather the last Thursday of every month for baked goods, chitchat and, of course, coffee.

A recent product offering—for part-time office space with new contract terms—sprang from a discussion that took place during fika, says chief of staff Charlie Bastier. It’s now one of the fastest-growing revenue streams, he says.

Not a Starbucks run

The pressure to make tweaks to the daily ritual is particularly acute in the U.S. Employees continue to report feeling less engaged in their jobs than in pre pandemic times, Gallup data show.

In addition, bonding with colleagues has become harder and less of a priority for many people in the hybrid world of work. Some employers worry the lack of social cohesion is harming company culture and operations.

At The Grand’s regular fika, staffers take turns hosting, leading with casual conversation or a board game such as Code Names or a drawing competition. The Grand’s co-founder Rei Wang says that fika allows her to spend time with her staff, making her a better leader.

“Learning more about their passions and their geniuses helps me understand and collaborate with them,” she says.

Pronounced “fee-kah,” the Swedish culture of breaking for coffee involves much more than a schlep to Starbucks. It’s meant to be a deliberate pause to provide space and time for people to connect. Many Swedish companies build a mandatory fika into the workday, while the Embassy of Sweden in Washington holds one for staff weekly. IKEA, promoting its Upphetta coffee maker on the corporate website, extols the virtues of fika: “When we disconnect for a short period, our productivity increases significantly.”

“Fika is where we talk life, we talk everything but work itself,” said Micael Dahlen, professor of well-being, welfare and happiness at the Stockholm School of Economics. The ritual helps drive trivsel, he says, a term that means a combination of workplace enjoyment and thriving. The concept is so fundamental to Swedish workplaces that many companies in Sweden have trivselcommittees, he said.

Dahlen said he suspects a pandemic-era drop in office fikas contributed to a sharp decline in Swedes’ happiness at work. Just over half of workers in Sweden reported a high level of job satisfaction in 2022, according to Eurostat, compared with 69.5% in 2017.

A productivity booster

There’s some evidence that communal coffee breaks help boost productivity. In a study of call-centre workers at Bank of America, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that teams that scheduled 15-minute breaks together were 18% more communicative with one another through the workday than groups with staggered breaks.

Annual turnover, likewise, was 12% among teams that held collective coffee breaks versus 40% among other workers. In all, the teamwork fostered via the breaks led to an estimated $15 million in increased annual productivity, says lead researcher Ben Waber.

“People who are in a tight knit social group have higher levels of trust,” said Waber, who has since founded a behavioural analytics company called Humanyze.

Hubble employees take turns baking and get a stipend of about $20 for supplies for the company’s monthly fikas. Last week, 26 staff members gathered in a communal area away from desks and cubicles.

Kate Mehigan, an account manager, brought in homemade arancini balls and Eliot Dixon, an account team lead, laid out a Basque cheesecake from a recipe he’d found online. Some people played ping pong.

Fleur Sylvester, a Hubble account executive, used the time to quiz a colleague on training advice for running a half-marathon. Sylvester says when she joined the company over a year ago the gatherings were invaluable for helping put faces to names.

“You get an opportunity to speak to other team members that you don’t get to talk to on a day-to-day basis,” Sylvester said. “When you’re online you don’t get the opportunity to have those chats.”

Peter Linder, head of thought leadership in North America for Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, recently introduced the fika concept to Jason Inskeep, senior director at management consulting company Slalom. The two men had initially met on a joint panel discussion, and Linder wanted to congratulate Inskeep on his new job at Slalom. He sent Inskeep a Zoom invite for a 20-minute fika one-on-one.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Inskeep said.

The vibe of the midmorning conversation—which meandered from the future of artificial intelligence to Inskeep’s own feelings navigating a new company culture—was different from the usual business tête-à-têtehe said. Bouncing ideas back and forth in a relaxed way left him feeling energized the rest of the morning.

“It was a mix of coffee shop and barber shop,” he said.



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The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

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But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

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