Work the lagom way: not too little, not too much

Friday afternoon at an office building in Göteborg, Sweden. Employees start walking out of the office much earlier than most of their Western European or American counterparts.  It is time to pick up the kids from school and go home to relax after a hard working week. Or even travel outside the city for a happy family weekend.

Bosses are ok with that. No worries. No one standing at the door with a clock and a list, to note who is leaving the office earlier. How come? Is this also part of the lagom lifestyle? And how do the Swedes manage to be among the world’s most productive employees?

Work ethic, baby!

In Sweden and the other Nordic countries, there is a big paradox. On the one hand people are really hard working and productive and on the other hand, people work fewer than most other people in the world. Why is that?

Well, there is a religious origin in all this but let’s just say that the Nordic culture does incentivize hard work and the accumulation of rewards (um, money). It is not cursed when people work hard and get paid a lot. It is their work ethic, that focuses on hard work. Laziness, on the other hand, is something that most people frown upon.

At the same time, the Swedes are among the people who work the fewest hours in the world. Isn’t it crazy? Working less, earning more. It is much about productivity. And maybe their fika ritual plays a role in that.

Studies have shown that people get most productive when they focus on a task for 60 or 90 minutes and then take a short break. The fika addiction is just about that. It is a custom that employees take fika breaks twice a day. And these are counted as part of their working hours, the same as with the lunch break. Yet, people can walk out of the office right on time or even earlier. How come?

Lagom work!

Here is the deal. They work in a lagom way. It is often for employees to ask their bosses or managers how much time they want them to spend on a task or project. Only to get an answer like “lagom“. Or “until it is done”. Not too little so that work is not done, but not too much either so that everybody gets a burnout. Good enough for the circumstances. If you get your work done earlier, you can leave. Totally OK!
This must be the foundation of the Nordic work-life balance, that everybody outside Scandinavia dreams of.  Maybe, it is all about standards and expectations? And looking at the big picture? You must work hard but in a meaningful way to get the work done, just good enough for what it is expected. Work too much and you get unhappy. Then work becomes a burden and productivity drops.
Key takeaway:
Work less but more focused and to the point. Set realistic expectations and goals. Remind yourself that working hard is good but working too hard is bad in the long-run.