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Tips for doing business in Sweden

Tips for doing business in Sweden

Nestled between Norway and Finland, Sweden forms the eastern Scandinavian Peninsula and boasts long coastlines, tiny islands, inland lakes and pristine forests. With its population recently topping 10 million, Sweden is a member of the European Union but has rejected the euro, instead keeping the Swedish krona (SEK).

The country’s trade-based economy is healthy and, though personal taxes are among the world’s highest, business taxes are low, averaging 22 percent. Notable Swedish companies include AstraZeneca, Ericsson, H&M, IKEA and Skype.

Here are six tips for doing business in Sweden.

1. Ethics are essential.

Swedish businesses are among the most corruption-free worldwide. American companies seeking corporate social responsibility (CSR) in global partnerships will find the Swedish people to be steadfast in their commitment to the environment, social equality, gender equity and fair workplace practices.

2. Swedes make work/life balance work.

Swedes have a word, lagom, that refers to sufficiency – just enough. This concept embodies the Swedish work ethic. Meticulous and efficient, Swedes show up, work smart and head home. Employees typically leave around 5 p.m. to care for their families. In fact, the need to work late is often considered a result of poor planning. Though colleagues sometimes take work home, try to avoid contact after hours unless there is a crisis.

Keep in mind that many businesses close in late February to early March and during the summer months to allow for vacations — five weeks of annual leave is the norm. Expect businesses to be shuttered during Christmas and Easter seasons as well.

3. Everyone has a seat at the table.

The Swedish work environment is democratic and men and women are considered equals. Using titles is uncommon and employees of all ranks refer to each other by first name.

Expect extensive dialogue and group contemplation before decisions are reached. Paradoxically, co-workers will join in discussions only when they feel they have a relevant point to contribute. High-pressure tactics or interrupting others is not tolerated, and self-aggrandizing is frowned upon. Verbal agreements are considered binding and underscored with signed contracts.

4. It pays to be on time.

Punctuality is a virtue in Swedish culture. It is expected that you arrive on time for business and social events. Call if you must be a few minutes late. Even the beloved coffee break — fika — is slated into the workday. Manage time effectively by scheduling meetings at least two weeks in advance, circulating agendas before on-site visits, and keeping to the agreed upon start and stop times. Follow up in writing.

5. Relationships are not overly familiar.

Not prone to outward displays of emotion, Swedes appear reserved by American standards and appreciate their personal space. As introductions are made, greet each person in the room with a swift, firm handshake and maintain eye contact when conversing. Knowing some Swedish phrases will make a good impression, though English is widely spoken.

Avoid hugs or physical touch and limit hand gestures or other nonverbal communication. Workplace questions about families or personal lives can seem intrusive. Keep small talk and joking to a minimum.

6. Wardrobes are casual – but not careless.

Business casual is the norm and another cultural example of avoiding status or showmanship. Executives and managers do not use clothing to differentiate themselves from employees. However, Swedes appreciate good design, and this is reflected in their style choices. Though jeans and sandals might be commonplace, play it safe and dress in modest, conservative business attire for initial meetings.

Also, be mindful of the season when traveling. While summers usher in near constant daylight, winters can be bitterly cold — bundle up!