Try Mind Tools for 7 days FREE Start Trial
Gain essential management and leadership skills
Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere.
Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources.
Join today!
Join Mind Tools

Sign-up to our newsletter

Subscribing to the Mind Tools newsletter will keep you up-to-date with our latest updates and newest resources.

Working on it...
Successfully subscribed to the newsletter
Sorry, something went wrong
May 11, 2022

Beating Loneliness With Fika: Sweden's Fix for Happier Workforces

Alice Gledhill

Share this post:

Loneliness is a companion that many of us have become all too familiar with over the past couple of years.

Last year, a quarter of Americans reported feeling loneliness for much of their day. And now, while many offices have reopened in the wake of the pandemic, working from home is still the norm for most of us who are able to work remotely. This means we're missing out on valuable watercooler chats in the office, carpooling with old friends, and meeting new co-workers in person. Working from home certainly has its perks, but it sure can be lonely.

It's no surprise, then, that the theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week in the U.K. (coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S.) is loneliness.

Effects of Loneliness

Loneliness can have a hugely negative impact on our lives, at home and at work. It's one of the HALT Risk States, meaning it can undermine your performance and trigger self-sabotage.

Prolonged loneliness will take its toll on your mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety and increased stress. It can even harm your physical health, too. And it's a vicious cycle – feeling lonely can further isolate someone because of the stigma attached to it.

But one country that seems to have banished workplace loneliness is Sweden. How? With a tasty tradition called fika.

What Is Fika?

You've probably heard of "fika" before, as multiple café chains use it in their names.

Fika is defined as "a break from activity during which people drink coffee, eat cakes or other light snacks, and relax with others." (Oxford English Dictionary)

Introduced in the 1900s, fika is a deeply rooted tradition in Sweden. So much so that many Swedish firms now have mandatory fika breaks. It allows workers to slow down and socialize. Fika breaks usually take place at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the workplace, but Swedes also take them out of office hours. They consider it an important and beneficial part of their daily lives.

And the proof is in the pudding! Swedish workers are some of the least stressed and most productive in the world. Many believe that this is thanks to the country's fika tradition.

So how can we take inspiration from Sweden?

How to Deal With Loneliness

Here are some ways that fika can inspire us to combat loneliness, whether working remotely or in the office.

Coffee Buddies

When lockdown forced us to close the office and start working from home, I was anxious about the change. I'm a creature of habit and had grown fond of the office and, even more so, the office dogs. A few weeks will be fine, I thought. But once it became clear that the Coronavirus wasn't going to "blow over in a couple weeks," and that working from home would be the new normal, I worried for my working relationships and feared missing out on news from other teams. Like everyone else, I soon started to miss my friends and co-workers (and the office dogs, of course!) and loneliness became my housemate.

My employer responded well to the pandemic, and set up a "coffee buddies" program. Each fortnight, I would be paired with someone else from the company and we would be prompted to set up a virtual meeting to have a chat and get to know one another. There was no time limit, so we could go at our own pace and enjoy the virtual company. I loved meeting colleagues new and old, and it certainly made me feel less lonely in lockdown.

Create a Culture of Connecting

There are lots of other initiatives that workplaces can instill to build a connected company culture and keep employee loneliness at bay. For example, why not start a chess tournament or book club?

These can easily be set up online or in the office, and allow you and your co-workers to learn a new skill, or spend time doing what you love. And it helps the business – employees who play hard, work hard.

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

It has been found time and time again that being kind makes us happier.

So, if you suspect someone might be suffering from loneliness, invite them to a fika break! A quick check-in that they're OK will defend you from loneliness, too. Or, could you try volunteering in your local community? This gives you the chance to meet new people, and boost your self-esteem.

A little kindness goes a long way – for everyone.

Get Comfortable Being Alone

In Sweden, it would be frowned upon to decline a fika invitation without a good reason. But socializing should be done on your own terms. A coffee break with a colleague isn't the perfect solution to everyone's loneliness, after all. However, fika is as much about taking the time to slow down as it is about socializing.

It may sound counterintuitive to embrace being alone when you experience loneliness, but it can be empowering. I've enjoyed trips to the cinema, dinners out, and even holidays alone before. And I think they made me more resilient to lockdown loneliness.

By choosing to spend some time alone, you protect yourself from burnout and hurry sickness. It allows time for reflection and rest. I think often we're afraid of solitude, but it can be nice in small doses.

Final Thoughts on Fika

It's important that employees feel able to take the time out of their working day to build connections. Building relationships with co-workers will not only improve employee well-being, but it will also help to break down silos and enhance collaboration.

I hope other workplaces can take inspiration from Sweden and encourage their teams to slow down and connect with one another this Mental Health Awareness Week.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a coffee, a cake and a willing colleague!

Share this post:

6 comments on “Beating Loneliness With Fika: Sweden's Fix for Happier Workforces”

  1. It can be challenging for leaders to notice their team members disengaging in this hybrid world. I like the idea of coffee buddies. I think it’s more important than ever to be conscious about creating a sense of belonging and provide opportunities to connect. Leaders also need to take into account the preferences of their team members, recognising that some are more introverted, so activities need to respond to different needs.

    1. I completely agree Debbie, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Mind Tools Coach

  2. I am very lonely. But I find things to do. I like to cook. I like to go out. Yes snacking ,chatting on the phone,hearing a dear ones voice all this keeps me going.

    1. Hi Sohini, I think keeping ourselves busy with what we enjoy doing can help us feel less alone and more cheerful. Thank you for commenting.
      Zala - MT Coach

    1. Hi TR Johny, yes, music can be uplifting and help at times when we're feeling low or need some energy.
      Thank you for commenting.
      Zala - MT Coach

Gain essential management and leadership skills

Busy schedule? No problem. Learn anytime, anywhere. Subscribe to unlimited access to meticulously researched, evidence-based resources. Join today!
Join Mind Tools

You may also like...

November 6, 2023

What's Your Story?

"A story never ends because it changes who we are, how we think, what we do. Its threads and impact continue to grow in ways we know, and don't know." - Yolandé Conradie

, ,

October 11, 2023

Accepting Praise – How to Own Your Achievements

There's a lot of advice on giving praise, but how can we accept it gracefully? Mind Tools' Assistant Content Editor, Alice Gledhill, explores why accepting praise can be so difficult.

, ,

August 16, 2023

Sleeping on the Job: Can Napping at Work Boost Performance?

When your eyelids are feeling a little heavy, you might be tempted to reach for the caffeine or simply power through to the end of the day. Instead, new research suggests that napping may well have been the answer all along.


© Mind Tools Ltd 2024. All rights reserved. "Mind Tools" is a registered trademark of Mind Tools Ltd.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram