If you’ve got your finger on the cultural pulse, then you’ll likely have heard a lot about fika already. Just like hygge, it’s another time-old Scandi trend that has taken the wider world by storm in the past couple of years. After all,the idea of taking time out of the working day for coffee and cake is something that everyone can get on board with. However, there’s a lot of misinformation out there surrounding fika, as well as confusion about the benefits it brings. Is it merely an excuse for more breaks? Or can it bring real value to the companies who adopt this uniquely Nordic attitude to the workday? Read on, and let us clear things up for you.

Fika Plate

What is fika?

Obviously, “fika” isn’t an English word. The concept originated in Sweden, where it’s a key part of people’s everyday lives. Twice a day, workers down tools and gather together to enjoy a hot drink and a sweet treat, while chatting freely with each other. This ritual is observed by all, from the tiniest bookshops to the mighty Volvo plant. There are typically two fika breaks schedules into the day- förmiddagsfika and eftermiddagsfika- and each one lasts about twenty minutes. What’s more, this doesn’t cut into the Swedes’ lunch hours- meaning they typically take almost two hours of breaks each day.

One might expect this to have a serious impact on productivity. After all, countries like Japan are known for their long working hours and extremely short breaks. Surely that means Scandinavians must lag a long way behind? In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sweden is actually one of the world’s top ten most productive nations, while Japan lags behind at around number forty. The amount of coffee they consume during the day certainly helps, but it’s really all down to the core factor of fika: communication.

A uniquely Swedish tradition

This is where most non-Swedes tend to miss the point of fika. Each country has its own coffee culture, so we assume that fika must be somewhat similar. However, to really get to grips with fika, one must understand just how deeply ingrained it is in Swedish culture. It dates all the way back to the nineteenth century, when coffee really took off in Scandinavia. Coffee had been subject to high taxes since the 1740s, and was actually banned by Swedish king Gustav III, who feared that coffeehouses were being used as meeting places by those planning to overthrow him. By 1820, though, the ban was being so widely flouted that it was abandoned completely. From this point on, coffee became a Swedish obsession that continues to this day. Back then, it was common for Swedes to refer to the drink by the slang word “kaffi”. Flip the syllables around, and you’ve got “fika”- and a national ritual was born.

Since coffee takes time to prepare properly, it made sense to make it in bulk, and for employees to gather together and enjoy a cup together before returning to work. Over the decades, fika evolved from a simple practise of convenience into the Swedish equivalent of afternoon tea- a distinct part of their culture. At the same time, it gradually became more than just a coffee break. Instead, the emphasis switched to make it a coffee break. Taking some time out to mentally recharge helps the Swedes to avoid the post-lunch slump, and keeps them productive throughout the whole day.

Coffee break

The results speak for themselves

What’s more, fika is a valuable opportunity for workers to share ideas, without feeling like they are stepping out of line by making a suggestion. Swedish companies tend to have fairly flat management structures, which means that most employees are on a fairly level pegging to begin with. When it comes to fika, though, all formalities go out the window. Everyone relaxes as they would outside of office hours, and for those twenty minutes, anyone is free to brainstorm their suggestions. As a key part of Swedish culture, numerous studies have been undertaken into fika. One found that a mere nine percent of new business ideas were formed during meetings. Instead, most tend to come up when staff relax over a cup of coffee and a pastry.

Finally, fika has also been found to dramatically reduce stress in the workplace. Rather than costing companies money by taking an extra forty minutes out of the day, it actually saves them money. That’s because employees who are less stressed aren’t as likely to take time off sick. Neighbouring nations Norway and Denmark also partake in fika-like rituals, and the Scandinavians as a whole regularly rank among the happiest people in the world. Contrast that with the UK: according to the HSE, around 12.5 million working days are lost to stress and related issues each year. Perhaps if we took a leaf out of the Swede’s book, then we could see similar results.

As more and more people discover fika over here, many companies are doing exactly that. While it’s too early to say conclusively whether this has had a positive effect, initial reports have been encouraging. One thing is for sure, though: if you want to achieve a little more inner peace, then fika is definitely something worth trying out for yourself.

Related: What Is Hygge? A Guide to Living, Danish-Style