Fika helps improve workplace culture (Photo: Dominick Mastrangelo)
It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday at the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi. The Swedish and Vietnamese staff was drinking and chatting in a community room.
Pham Tung Lam, a communications and political adviser at the Embassy said that it’s part of the Swedish culture for employees to take a short break – called ‘fika’ – during the day.
Often translated as ‘a coffee and cake break’, fika is much more than that, according to Swedish Ambassador Ann Måwe.
She said fika is much wider than a break time, but if you put it in the work situation, it is a break time, because you effectively go off your tasks and you sit down and have a coffee.
“And I think there is clear evidence that you become more efficient at your work. If you take a break and free your mind and talk to some colleagues about whatever is on your mind. But we often go out to have a fika with friends at the weekend also. And then it's not a break from work, it's just a social date,” said Ambassador Måwe.
The word fika derives from a 19th-century slang word for coffee: ‘kaffi’. Invert the word ‘kaffi’, and you get ‘fika’. One important thing about fika is that you can’t experience fika at your desk by yourself, Ambassador Måwe said.
She noted, “The main thing is that coffee and a sweet is just an excuse to sit down and have a good conversation about what’s going on right now, new ideas, what's happening in your life. I think this is the highlight of fika and it happens in every workplace and often on weekends and evenings also.”
Fika is a ritual. All Swedes consider it important to make time to stop and socialize, to take a pause. It refreshes the brain and strengthens relationships. It makes good business sense. Firms have better teams and are more productive where fika is institutionalized.
Dang Phuong Lan, the Embassy’s trade, economics, and education adviser, said she highly appreciate the chance to get away from work for a little while, twice a day.
“Especially when you have a deadline to meet, it helps to reduce your stress when you talk with people. Also, it increases your concentration after the break,” said Lan.
|In the photo from left are Christofer Fredriksson, Johanna Ström (a new intern), Dang Phuong Lan, Ambassador Ann Måwe, and a Vietnamese staff during a Friday fika. (Photo credit: Swedish Embassy)
At the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi, fika is implemented on a schedule. On Friday the whole staff sits down together to drink tea or coffee and chat.
What you eat during fika is not important. The food is incidental to the companionship, the socializing and catching up with friends and colleagues.
But whatever food you choose for fika should be fresh and well presented. Ideally it should be homemade. Many team leaders in Sweden consider it important to bake something at home to take into work for fika, Ambassador Måwe said.
The Swedish diplomat said told VOV that at her embassy, they have exotic fruits for fika because they’re much more available and delicious in Vietnam.
“In Sweden, for fika, you would have a cinnamon bun, maybe. Sometimes here we have a cinnamon bun, or semla, which is a traditional pastry for the beginning of the year. But in Sweden, Swedish people love to bake, and we always have a list and take turns baking. It doesn't matter if you’re a boss or a cleaner or a mid-level manager, one Friday in the year you have to bake and bring cakes or cinnamon buns or something to the office for your colleagues,” said Madam Måwe.
“If you forget to do it, everybody gets very upset. It’s almost like a holy rule that you must bring a sweet,” she concluded.
|Lan says the cinnamon bun has a definite place in the fika hall of fame. Fragrant and sweet, it's satisfyingly filling due to its soft, bready nature. (Photo credit: Dang Phuong Lan)
Make sure you’re never too busy for fika, Swedes say. Wherever you live, give fika a try in your daily schedule.
Lan said she finds it very interesting, and really appreciates the opportunity to have fika every day.
“It’s a kind of control in the workplace and it’s quite different from other places I worked before I joined the embassy. It’s really a nice break for all the colleagues in different sections to have a time to have coffee or tea and talk about various things in life. It could be the weather, it could be where to travel and what to do in your leisure time. Sometimes we talk about work to get a better understanding of the other person's work,” said Lan, adding, “But usually we try not to talk about work during a fika. This is really a chance for all of us to have a break from the workday routine. People appreciate the time when we can have fika together and connect with each other.”
Christofer Fredriksson, Cultural and Sweden Promotion Officer, said fika has followed him his whole life. But he also warned of the potential side effect of fika.
According to Christofer, fika is super important both in the family and in the workplace.
“Where I work, fika is a daily habit. I read a few months ago about a study by a Swedish newspaper that found that fika has become a health problem. People bring cakes and other sweets to the office on a daily basis and you're almost obliged to try them and comment on them. Fika has what you might call a ‘backside effect’, but it's up to each person whether to taste the cake and whether to take a big or a small bite of it,” said Christofer.
He added he still thinks fika is super important for the social impact of it. It's the moment of the day when you meet your colleagues or friends or family, basically.
“I love it. It creates a nice break in the day to recharge your battery,” said Christofer.
Fika can be a verb. Swedes will say to each other, "Let's go fika!" or "You and I fika together so well".