Is Lagom killing Sweden?

Sorry no food today – I had a weekend of millions of kids parties, a GREAT birthday party of my wonderful neighbours and last night I was soooo tired I ate all the kids goodie bags.  It does annoy me I eat them when they are not even sweets I like, but hey such is life.  I am currently pondering Swedish society….

In Sweden Lagom is seen as good – not too much and not too little; it is a word that most other languages do not have. You are not allowed to be too rich or too poor, or too flamboyant or too boring – you should be like everyone else and not stand out. The article below got published in The Local today which is rather exciting!

Is Swedens equality culture killing careers and growth

Why are the Swedes so stressed?

For the last 5 years, the number of people taking time off due to stress increased in Sweden, according to the Swedish work environment authority (Arbetsmiljöverket). With over 40% of work related illness being due to stress it is time to take a long hard look at ourselves. I love many aspects of working life here such as generous holiday allowances, maternity and paternity packages as well as a supportive government when it comes to child care, elderly care, health care etc in addition we work less than our European counterparts in most cases.  So what is making the Swedish workforce so stressed?

Is lagom and equality killing them off? I think it might be.

Having worked at a large Swedish company and numerous large American and British firms I think I see at least part of the problem.  In Sweden everyone should get the chance and time to give their opinion and be involved.  But are companies not actually there to ’do’ not just think and debate?

Maslows hierarchy of needs states that basic security is key – I think it is hard to dispute this.  People want to (I want to) feel like my life is secure and in today’s society that means having a regular income that covers basic needs such as food, housing, basic living etc. I think Swedish corporates cover this. But, then you also want to feel valued, to make a difference, do work that has a purpose and fulfill your own potential.

This, is my opinion (and experience) is where the Swedish work culture falls down.  Giving everyone a chance to voice their concern and give a view means decisions are never really made, sometimes they just happen but that doesn’t give people a sense of satisfaction.

Also all the things in a working day, week, month, year that employees should give feedback and views on is overwhelming. This makes it hard to prioritize and which in turn makes people feel uncomfortable; the fact that they discussed the toilet paper brand instead of the sales that needs to be made is not motivating.  Lacking in achievement, the guilt of never being enough is in my mind a negative stress – and it is this stress that makes people as it is expressed in Sweden – ’Hit the Wall’.

In English speaking countries they call it a nervous breakdown. Albeit not statistically checked it feels like hitting the wall in Sweden is a fairly common occurrence. I never met one person in my 12 years on the London job market who had a nervous breakdown.  Am I just lucky, ignorant or is there actually a stress epidemic in Sweden?

I am sitting here in the sunshine typing this because I realised I had enough. The negative stress sucked life out of me and I too realized I could have hit the wall if I didn’t make a change in my life. I am one of the lucky ones as I felt I had a choice but many don’t as covering basic needs means many people keep going. After hitting the wall it can then take months or even years to be able to handle even minimum stress again.

So why do I think lagom and equality is killing the Swedes?

Who wants to be a lagom good mother/father or employee I for one want to be GREAT. I know of one successful business woman who was consistently overachieving her sales budgets. When she was called in to her managers office for a meeting she expected a pat on the back or at least a “well done”. Instead, she was asked to take her foot off the accelerator and to slow down as she was showing up the others who were struggling to make their targets. Is this a culture of lagom?

Business leaders should be encouraging employees to fulfill their potential!

I’m not advocating that we all start to adopt a superiority complex by the way, far from it. I believe that everyone is equal and should be treated as such.

If managers and leaders created a culture where everyone could succeed and develop, I for one, believe that we could radically reduce these stresses.

We do not become more equal by letting everyone discuss everything – we become tired and overwhelmed.

My advice to companies out there is to support leadership – and when I say leadership I mean leaders i.e. people who make decisions and inform their employees. Of course listen to the key people for input but not everyone every time.

Create a vision and purpose for the organisation and create motivating, understandable goals that stretch and challenge your employees.

What else can we do to redress the balance?

  1. Set SMART motivating goals that people understand and that matter to the company.
  1. Allow people to do – brave leadership inspires brave employees. It means you are allowed to fail and learn and grow both as an individual and a business.
  1. Talk about what is important and what you can change and make better.
  1. Create a coaching culture based on two way feedback.

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