I randomly stumbled on to the concept of fika when I came across a video short by the BBC. I feel in love with the concept instantly. Because I loved the concept of the Swedish fika, I did a little research into it and ended up creating this article. I hope you enjoy this little slice of Swedish life.
How To pronounce Fika
Let’s first tackle the subject of how to pronounce fika. Because I’m dyslexic with considerable issues with phonetics, I hate it when people tell me to say it or spell it like it sounds. So not helpful. To avoid me being one of those people, here’s how you pronounce fika: fee-ka (Afar).
What Is Fika?
As the title of the article suggests, fika is a Swedish concept. To a Swede, fika is a big part of their everyday life (Hej Sweden). In a nutshell, fika is where Swedes have a coffee break. However, Swedish fikas are nothing like a coffee break in the US or UK where a solitary employee makes themself a coffee or a tea, and if you’re lucky, makes enough for everyone else before returning to their desk to continue working (Stybel Peabody Associates, Inc., n.d.).
A fika is much more than a coffee break. Many Swedes think it’s essential to make time for a fika every day. They make time to gather with coworkers at work or with friends outside of work for coffee (or any drink), something delicious to eat, and chat (Swedish Food). In short, you can’t have a fika on your own.
Over the years, baked treats such as fikabröd (fika bread) accompanied the traditional coffee and a chat fika. The arrival of patisseries in 19th century Sweden cemented the tradition as a coffee-and-cake-custom enjoyed with friends (Visit Sweden).
In Sweden, fika is more than just a quick hit of caffeine. It’s an excuse to slow down and relax in the company of others, and if done right, it’s believed to improve productivity and enhance wellbeing (BBC).
How Can Fika Support Your Wellbeing?
A study conducted by the National Charity Partnership (a collaboration between the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, and Tesco) was reported on by Employee Benefits. The study found that of the 2,000 employee participants, 24% regularly work through their lunch breaks.
This is supported by Totaljobs, who conducted a study on 7,135 participants and found that 56% of workers never take their full lunch break. This study also found that 68% of those surveyed justified skipping lunch because of having too much to do or an unexpected task to manage. It’s no wonder everyone feels stressed all the time and certain jobs have a high turnover because of burnout.
In Sweden, many workplaces, as part of the regular daily schedule, have a fika at 10:00 and again at 15:00 (Hej Sweden). But remember, this is only effective if you’re not working during these breaks. Working defeats the point. The point is to have 10-30 minutes to socialise, which helps manage stress and your wellbeing.
Why is taking a fika break important? You might be asking. Well, 14.7% of workers experience mental health problems in the workplace (Lelliott, Tulloch, Boardman, Harvey, and Henderson, 2008). Which will have a knock on effect on productivity, wellbeing, sick days taken, and overall quality of life.
The importance of taking breaks at work was found in a study by Ariga and Lleras (2011). Using 84 participants, they sort to investigate the effects of taking a break on performance. The study found that taking breaks boosted performance rather than hindering it.
Another workplace benefit of introducing fikas into the workday is that it’ll allow and encourage informal communication across departments and divisional lines (Stybel Peabody Associates, Inc., n.d.). It might take a few fika breaks before people become comfortable talking across departments, but it’ll create a happier and healthier work environment. It’ll also allow for networking (Morley, Angervall, Berggren, and Dodillet, 2018).
Some of the other perks of fika are, according to Health Assured: a more engaged workforce, reduced injuries in physically demanding roles, a boost in creativity, reduced presenteeism and absenteeism, and improved job satisfaction. It can also improve team building, help keep staff, and boost staff morale (Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland).
Remember, it’s not really about getting your shot of caffeine on the go, it’s about scheduling pauses in the day. These pauses give you time to catch your breath and recenter yourself to carry on.
Here’s a thought, why not turn some of those never ending meetings into a fika break instead? Or, if possible, get your workplace to add fika breaks for 10-30 minutes a day, and embrace the Swedish lifestyle. They already cater for our furniture needs, so you may as well enjoy the other perks of Sweden as well. Sweden is the sixth happiest county in the world, after all.
Even before the pandemic, making time to catch up with your family and friends was already hard enough. Especially when it comes time to knowing when and how to leave a get together, which we Brits can really struggle with. We can be so awkward. This is where fika could fit in for a dose of self-care happiness.
Establish your fika boundaries with your friends and family, then just invite them all for a fika gathering at someone’s home, local cafe, or pâtisserie. You could even have an online fika with your online friends and family from around the world.
Fika is also an excellent alternative to going to the pub, which us Brits could do with moving away from. Who doesn’t love a nice pastry or a cake and a chat?
To fika or not to fika, that is the question. The answer to that question, if you ask me, is to fika. Not only is taking a few brief breaks good for your own wellbeing, it’s even beneficial for your employer. But its benefits come from the social aspect of it, rather than just having a break on your own. So whether in your work life, social life, or ideally both, try to make time to be a Swede and have a fika.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences fika and other social breaks in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Ariga, A. & Lleras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition, 118(3), 439-443. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/13336930/Brief_and_rare_mental_breaks_keep_you_focused_Deactivation_and_reactivation_of_task_goals_preempt_vigilance_decrements, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222820913_Brief_and_rare_mental_breaks_keep_you_focused_Deactivation_and_reactivation_of_task_goals_preempt_vigilance_decrements, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21211793, and https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010027710002994.
Lelliott, P., Tulloch, S., Boardman, J., Harvey, S., & Henderson, H. (2008). Mental health and work. Retrieved from gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf.
Morley, L., Angervall, P., Berggren, C., & Dodillet, S. (2018). Re-purposing fika: rest, recreation or regulation in the neoliberalized Swedish University?. European Journal of Higher Education, 8(4), 400-414. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21568235.2018.1458637, https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2018.1458637, and https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Petra-Angervall/publication/324248034_Re-purposing_fika_rest_recreation_or_regulation_in_the_neoliberalized_Swedish_University/links/5ac7372f0f7e9bcd51933881/Re-purposing-fika-rest-recreation-or-regulation-in-the-neoliberalized-Swedish-University.pdf.
Stybel Peabody Associates, Inc. (n.d.). Fika, H. Y. T. Help! Our Corporate Culture is SO Silo-Driven. Retrieved from https://stybelpeabody.com/pdf/psychologytodayfika.pdf.