The concept of "Fika"
Fika (pronounced “fee-kah”) is a concept deeply embedded into Swedish culture. With no direct translation into English, this culinary tradition involves taking a break from work, having a coffee, a piece of cake, and catching up with friends. Imagine it is a dismal Monday and you are busy working. Your eyes are stained from the brightness of the computer screen glaring back at you. Your feet are restless from the statutory position you have held all day whilst leaning over your desk. Suddenly, the clock hits 3 pm, and it is time to take a well-earned break. It is time for Fika. But this tradition has a wider societal significance and meaningful history. Let us delve more into this Swedish phenomenon and explore what the world can learn from it.
A step back in time: The history behind it
Where exactly did Sweden’s love for this coffee-based tradition come from? Ranking 3rd in the world for coffee consumption per person, on average, many Swedes spend 228 hours per year enjoying Fika. However, this ritual and the much-loved beverage itself was once banned in the country. Back in the 18th century, King Gustav III became paranoid that it caused health problems, as well as holding the potential for those meeting over a coffee to conjure up plans to overthrow his monarchy. The ban lasted 36 years, from 1756 to Gustav’s assassination in 1792, but this did not stop the black market for coffee from emerging during this period. By the 19th century, Fika (which is the Swedish slang term for coffee: kaffi) became the concept many now know and love. Nowadays, Swedish workers generally take two Fika breaks per day: one at 10 am and again around 3 pm. It is embedded into everyday life.
The benefits of Fika
In the past decade, work employees around the globe have reported historic levels of stress, distractions, and the feeling of being overworked. On the list of priorities, self-care sadly remains low. So how can Fika help maintain a strong work-life balance? First of all, it creates the chance for better connections and conversations to be made. As the break typically goes beyond its food and drink focus by being all about the company and camaraderie, workers can relax and chat without corporate pressures. In Europe and North America, each year around 14% of the population are unfortunately diagnosed with work-related depression. Regular breaks at work are important to avoid anxiety attacks and burnout. They can uplift our mood, create a refreshed feeling, and ultimately help us strengthen our relationship with colleagues. Of course, Fika is not the answer to all problems, but it can certainly ease daily stresses and help improve workers mindsets.
A business point of view: increased productivity?
Although it may seem Fika could slow down the day and become a hindrance for businesses, it has been proven to surprisingly boost productivity. In fact, Sweden ranks among the top 10 most productive countries in the world, and many companies here have made these relaxing coffee breaks mandatory. For example, for those in knowledge-based industries, resting the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which is responsible for executive functioning, logical thinking, and using willpower to override impulses, is vital. This allows the mind to take a break and replenish itself in order to avoid the negative consequences of overworking and keep performance levels optimal. Once the Fika break has ended, workers can get back to being productive with their regained engagement levels. Investing in positive mental health practices can even help save businesses themselves money. In 2017, it was estimated mental health-related problems at work cost businesses up to £42 billion per year. So, allowing regular breaks throughout the day for the sake of the workers’ health may not be a bad idea after all.
Get onboard: How to Fika
Fika does not need to be limited to those living in Sweden. Providing you have time in your day, you can enjoy it and reap its benefits too. The first rule of Fika is to make yourself comfortable. The Swedish have a word for this: mysigt. Secondly, unlike more fast-paced coffee cultures like the United States, Swedes enjoy their coffee with cake other sweet pastries. ‘Kanebullar’, which is a Swedish cinnamon bun, is a very popular choice. Beyond being a simple coffee break, Fika also fosters the idea of togetherness. It can take place in a coffee shop down your street, in the meeting room of your workplace, or even virtually through a video call if you are working from home. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy it. Simply switch off from work, chat with those around you, and enjoy yourself.
So, what can we learn?
Corporate life often leads to a rush, grab-and-go environment, with no calm moments. Even if we get a break and head out for coffee and a sweet treat, we tend to devour rather than savour. It is important to pause, relax, and chat with the people around us. Breaking down barriers in the office can bring us closer to colleagues and help us feel freer to express any feelings or concerns. So next time you have any spare time in your day, devote it to Fika and see if you can feel its benefits too.
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