‘Mutual trust and flexibility’: What it’s like to live and work in Scandinavia

Nations across Scandinavia are known for their progressive social policies, generous parental leave programs and publicly funded health care. They also offer some of the best employee benefits packages in the world. Sweden provides a two-year shared parental leave allowance. Meanwhile companies in Norway grant certain employees country vacation cabins for their use during the summer months. Could this be why the region regularly earns high scores on the United Nations’ World Happiness Report? Here, three denizens of the region explain local secrets to maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

“For me, it was a life choice to move back to Norway. I would have had less time to spend with my daughter if I continued to live and work in the U.K.

The Scandinavian model is based on mutual trust and flexibility. Men are really encouraged and expected to take their part of the parental leave: 15 weeks of the total leave [of 46 weeks in Norway] are reserved for the father.

In a workplace like Schibsted, both the company and colleagues understand and respect that people need to have their family life sorted out. This means that we often know quite a bit about our colleagues’ families. For instance, on a Sunday in December, employees’ children are invited to the office to make holiday decorations together.

The most important message is that to have this work-life balance does not affect your career in a negative way. Rather, it’s seen as necessary for all of us to contribute our best at work.” —Laila Dahlen, Schibsted Media Group’s chief product officer in Oslo, Norway

“In order for us to get ambitious people, we need to offer great benefits. Here, people work to live rather than live to work; it is a culture. They want to leave at 5 p.m. to get to their families. I leave at 3:30 p.m. some days.

In all aspects we need to be flexible. Previously benefits we offered were more favorable for people with young families. So in January 2019 we introduced benefits more suited to one-person households, like increasing the sum for keep-fit activities, subway tickets, movie tickets, massages, grocery delivery and home construction — while people with families get child care services and study buddies. We’ve tried to incorporate both.

The flexible system hasn’t been live for a whole year yet but in a survey across 61 organizations [carried out by benefits tech platform company Benify], our employees are 31.3% more satisfied with their benefits offering compared to the average.” —Linnéa Falsen, human resources partner for Pernod Ricard in Sweden

“There are leaders who say that they can’t take leave. I hate to break it to you; it’s an illusion.

A lot of leaders, men and women, myself included, are appointed and promoted just before [taking] parental leave. This makes way for people coming up. It’s a great way of developing competencies, developing people and making a more robust company that can take on changes more easily. Someone staying in the same position for 10 years is too rigid [of a practice]. This is the modern way of doing things.

For the generation coming up now, the work-life balance and purpose of what we are doing is important for our teams.

In parts of Europe longer leave is difficult [to provide] because of the financial situation. But Germany, France, the U.K., everywhere needs talent. And this [could be] a way [in such countries] of making it attractive.” —Øyulf Hjertenes, director of Schibsted Coast in Bergen, Norway


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