If you have ever heard people from Sweden use this funny sounding word (sounds a bit like “coffee” backwards, doesn’t it?) it is no wonder you did not understand it. Fika is less of a word and more of a concept that has to have an orthographical form by default. Literally, fika means “a break for coffee and cake” and it really stands for this ritual pause during a workday. However, there is so much more to a fika, that its benefits can be used worldwide if people only knew what fika really meant for the Swedes and their business culture.
Even the world-famous car producer Volvo introduced fika a few years ago, so the concept has to be legit, right? Well, the answer to this (rhetorical) question is everything but simple. Fika basically supplants a normal break that other cultures have, the only difference being that fika is not an office but a cultural ritual.
Apart from taking a pause from work to drink a cup of coffee and have a cupcake, the heart and soul of fika is socializing. People take this break at the same time, so they can sit together and chat about various stuff. The tradition is deeply rooted in the culture of this Scandinavian country that work could be imagined with a single break but not without a fika. Without it, they probably wouldn’t even show up for work, to begin with.
If you are still unsure what fika really is, you are at least positive it’s a noun. However, it is not exclusively a noun, as fika can also be a verb. Like in English and other languages, the frequent usage of this word resulted in a new part of speech. That is why now Swedes ask each other “to go and fika” or two people “fika so well” together.
The coffee and the cake are there just as an excuse for coworkers to hang out together and converse in a socially acceptable scenario. When it comes to food, you needn’t eat a cake, as even a sandwich will do but all food should have a homely atmosphere to it. This means that it should be fresh, wrapped nicely, and ideally prepared at home and then brought to work. Team leaders and managers in Sweden even bake their own cakes to bring to work and offer their colleagues with. In this sense, fika is a culinary variant of a team building activity.
When it comes to the drinking part, coffee is the beverage of choice, like in some many offices around the globe. The espresso coffee machine is the social hotspot in the office during a fika, as all workers gather around it to get their cup of fresh coffee. Alternatively, the water cooler, the kitchen or the desk of a worker can serve as the venue for a fika. In essence, where the (non-alcoholic) drinks are, that is where fika and the workers participating in it are.
If you thought that Swedish people are modern and technology-oriented, this is only partially true. When a fika begins, whether it be in a comfy office or right there on the factory floor, lights go off. This is because candles get lit in order to improve the atmosphere, as they add to the whole slowing down picture. This way, workers are discouraged from using their smartphones, so talking, alongside eating and sipping coffee, become the only activities happening.
If you had to name the happiest nations on Earth; those who are always smiling, you would probably say Cubans or the Portuguese. However, last year’s World Happiness Report compiled by the United Nations lists four Scandinavian countries in the top 10 places, Sweden being the 9th country. This means that Swedes, along with their neighbors, have apparently discovered some secret recipe for happiness. Not to kid ourselves, a large portion of this satisfaction comes from a strong economy, a small part of which fika is.
As we said, this break is more than just a break, as the laid back atmosphere helps people not only socialize but generate new business ideas. There is no such thing as pressure during a fika, which many workers use to come up with brilliant business ideas while chatting with their colleagues about various topics, work not excluded.
It might seem odd at first but Sweden has actually benefited from regular fikas in the office. They are just formally considered breaks but they actually boost morale and serve as a breeding ground for new business ideas. The fight is on to introduce fika into other parts of the world, as companies are anxious to see if a fika will be miraculous for them as it was (and still is) for the Swedes. The English are trailblazing the way they take pauses at work but other countries are starting to experiment with fika as well.