When was the last time you sat in a local café sipping your favorite cup of coffee and absorbing the hubbub of the room?
Did you take note of your sensory surroundings? The hustle of the cafe workers, the buzz of conversation in the air, or the clanking of utensils. Did you enjoy it alone or with a friend?
If you’re anything like me, you most likely grab your morning coffee and only notice your surroundings as you rush out of the coffee shop to get to the office or to your next meeting. Coffee, especially in Western and American cultures, is a means to an end. It’s that immediate shift into overdrive so you can cruise through your mile-long to-do list.
This isn’t the case in Sweden. It’s fika.
Swedes indulge in this ritual daily. Fika (pronounced “fee-kah” for us non-Swedish speakers), doesn’t have a direct translation but refers to “a coffee break”—although it’s so much more than that.
It’s not an activity that Swedes schedule on their calendars—it’s ingrained in their culture and way of life. It’s an intentional pause in the day for socialization and relaxation and a routine we should all adopt, especially at work.
What Is Fika?
If you asked the modern knowledge worker how they’re doing, their response is most likely: “I’m so busy.” According to an article in The Atlantic, employees have reported historic levels of stress, distractions, and feeling overworked. Self-care falls low on the priority list and burnout is officially considered a syndrome that results from extreme workplace stress, according to the World Health Organization.
Sweden is considered one of the top champions for a healthy work-life balance. The country has one of the most generous parental leave and subsidized childcare policies in the world; workers are guaranteed at least five weeks of vacation; flexible working is considered the norm in many companies.
Despite these envy-inducing benefits, Swedish workers are reporting feelings of burnout and stress-related illnesses too. Even though Swedes are working harder and longer than previous generations, fika has remained a strong pillar in the days and lives of its citizens.
In the web documentary series, fika - to have coffee, Fabian Schmid, the creator of the series, explores this small but essential part of Swedish day-to-day life. The popular ritual is viewed in 6 parts with interviews of Swedish citizens and expats.
In the first episode, they explain fika as “a part of everyday life,” “an institution,” and even “a Swedish religion.”
The word “fika” derives from the 19th-century, Swedish slang word for coffee: kaffi. The consumption numbers themselves prove that coffee is popular in this Nordic country. Along with Norway and Denmark, Sweden is on the top 10 list of largest coffee-consuming nations in the world.
But the focus isn’t solely on the drink and food—it’s all about the company and camaraderie. Fika is typically enjoyed at a café with friends or colleagues over a cup of coffee and a pastry.
One of the interviewees in fika - to have coffee explains:
“Fika is a way of meeting people, spending time with people over coffee and bread.”
It’s the social center in Sweden. And Swedes explain that they love the relaxed, no pressure expectations of the daily coffee break. Product marketing manager of Trello, Jordan Mirchev, who is originally from Sweden and now lives in Spain, says:
“Fika to me is the smell of cinnamon and black filter coffee. It’s that mid-morning or mid-afternoon break with a social twist.”
The Benefits Of Fika, Or A Daily Break
If you’re a knowledge worker, then you participate in “think-work” which means your prefrontal cortex—the thinking part of your brain—is constantly at work while you are. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for logical thinking, executive functioning, and using willpower to override impulses.
That’s a lot of brain work and it’s important to give yourself and your mind a break throughout your workday.
In a survey by Tork, 90% of North American employees claim that taking a break helps them feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. Here are addition benefits of taking an intentional break from your workspace every day:
- Better connections and conversations
Swedes don’t focus on work when they’re sipping on their lattes and conversing with their colleagues. However, if work-related topics come up, it’s a natural moment in the larger conversation. In episode 6 of fika - to have coffee, many of the interviewees explain that fika is an opportunity during the day for coworkers to socialize in a relaxed way without corporate pressures.
In an interview, Magnus Nilsson, the famous Swedish chef who won two Michelin stars, reiterates this point:
“It happens to be that in the workplace these moments to snack which are usually right in between the main meals of breakfast and dinner has become the time where you socialize with your colleagues.”
- Improved productivity and creativity when you’re back at your desk
Various research studies have proven that breaks help you become more creative and boost levels of engagement and productivity. Those “ah-ha” or break-through moments can clearly bubble to the surface of your brain when you give it the much-needed rest and space to not think.
This is why you get some of your best ideas in the shower or when you pull away from your screens and stop to smell the coffee beans. Allowing your brain to relax and even daydream means your prefrontal cortex can relax. The command station is on auto-pilot allowing for your brain’s “default mode network” to clear and connect new pathways. Your creative juices can flow when you’re not laser-focused to come up with the perfect idea or solution.
A Few (Coffee)Ground Rules To A Successful Fika
Companies around the world are realizing the productivity-boosting benefits of fika. It’s no surprise that IKEA has incorporated the routine into their work culture and even offers the experience to their in-store customers (who can resist those Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce?).If you’re interested in incorporating fika into your daily routine at work with your team, here are a few rules to follow:
- Since it may be a new concept, put “fika time” on your calendar as a meeting with your team for at least half an hour every afternoon.
- Remove yourself from the office if you work in a physical space with your colleagues and walk together to a local coffee shop.
- Grab your favorite cups of coffee, pastries, and a table.
- Just like a strong cup of coffee, let the conversations flow.
- To avoid interruptions and distractions, determine before fika if you agree to ban laptops and smartphones during the break.
The above rules fit well if your team works together in a physical space, so if you are on a remote team, you’ll be dependent on technology to bring everyone together for an afternoon fika. Here’s how you can adjust the rules in order to reap the benefits:
- Hop on a video call with your team to pow-wow over a cup of coffee. Just encourage everyone to turn off notifications so they’re not distracted even though they are using their laptop or smartphone to join the conversation.
- If you can’t jump on a video call at the same time every day, allow your team to take the same time off each afternoon to take a break from work. Create a #fika channel in Slack or your preferred internal communication platform to encourage your team to post and share their daily dose of fika.
At the end of the day, fika is what you make it. Jordan Mirchev explains further:
“As a remote worker based in Europe, I sync with my team on US Eastern time. Therefore, I get to enjoy most mornings on my own. After I drop my daughter off at the daycare, I go for a run or swim. Then, when it's time for fika, I will often use that moment to catch up with a friend over a coffee or I may just sit back and relax by myself. With so many new places opening up all the time, I also like to explore cafés and areas I normally don’t explore. It helps to keep you inspired and get out of your comfort zone.”
Remember: the goal is to take an intentional break in your day to encourage you to relax your body, reset your mind, and socialize with others. That delicious cup of coffee is a sweet bonus.
What’s Your Flavor?
As a human, you’re a creature of habit. You may not like to change your coffee order and try that new concoction by your barista - but what do you have to lose? That cinnamon cold brew affogato may become your new favorite order.
So take a page from your Nordic neighbors’ playbook and buffer that break into your daily routine. And with every sip of coffee and great conversation you have during fika, enjoy the productivity-boosting benefits the moment you head back to work feeling refreshed and caffeinated.
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