- When it comes to work-life balance, Sweden is far ahead of the game compared to many countries.
- In Sweden, there is a law enforcing a five-week vacation policy.
- The work culture in the US compared with Sweden differs greatly when it comes to prioritising family and well-being.
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In 2013, I moved from New York City to Gothenburg, Sweden, to live with my husband.
I lived in Sweden for five years, and looking back, it’s clear to me that Sweden differs from the United States in many realms of life and work.
In Sweden, people cherish their time outside when the weather is nice – even more than people in the US. And companies in Sweden seem to have less hierarchy than workplaces in the US.
But after spending five years in Sweden, I noticed some of the most pronounced differences between Sweden and America had to do with work-life balance. From Sweden’s generous parental leave policies to the five weeks of paid vacation it gives workers, there’s a lot the US could learn from the European country.
Read on to see five areas where Sweden blows the US out of the water when it comes to work-life balance.
Sweden mandates generous parental leave for all parents, regardless of gender
Having a baby can be an exciting yet scary time for parents. In the US, many parents do not have the luxury of taking substantial time off, if any, to bond with their new baby or take care of themselves. There is no law in the US that mandates employers to offer paid parental leave.
In Sweden, not only do new mothers get time off, but the partner also has the right to 10 days off work within 60 days of the baby coming home in order to support the mother and get to know the newborn baby. Apart from getting 10 days off work, parents will get about 80% of their salary during those days. These same rules apply to families who adopt. Furthermore, parents in Sweden have the right to a combined 480 days off. Out of those 480 days, 390 of them are based on your salary before the baby is born, and for the remaining 90 days, you get around $US20 per day. During the 390 days, you’ll get about 80% of your salary, but with a maximum of around $US100 per day. You can distribute the 480 days as you wish between the parents, but 90 days are earmarked for each parent. In order to use all the days, the parent not giving birth must take 90 days off to take care of the child.
Sweden’s parental leave laws are also now changing to be more inclusive of non-heteronormative and “traditionally-structured” families with a cisgender man and woman at the head of the household. Older laws accounted for same-sex couples and couples introducing a step-parent by allowing the parent who gave birth to take parental leave until the adoption process was finalised for the other parent.
Under new laws, it will now be possible for the partner who gave birth to transfer some parental leave days to the partner who did not before any adoption process is complete.
Everyone gets a minimum of five weeks of paid vacation
From time to time, everyone needs to be able to recharge their batteries and have time off from work. Multiple studies have shown that taking vacation improves productivity, lowers stress, and is beneficial to one’s mental health.
Many employees throughout the US have paid vacation, but most people have nowhere near five weeks of vacation.
In Sweden, you are guaranteed five weeks, or 25 working days, of vacation. There is something called Semesterlagen, or “vacation law,” in Sweden that governs vacation policies. Semesterlagen not only gives employees the right to five weeks of paid vacation time, but also the right to take four of those weeks consecutively during the months of June, July, and August.
Sweden doesn’t penalise you for getting sick for long periods of time
No one likes getting sick, and no one likes sick people coming into the office.
Companies throughout the US have varying policies regarding paid sick leave, and often, American workers feel compelled to work through their ailments.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, everyone has paid sick days. However, a new 2019 rule says Swedish workers who take sick days will see a deduction of 20% of their salary for an average work week. For longer periods of sickness, in the US, you might run through your allotment of sick days and be forced to dip into your vacation time. But in Sweden, regardless of the length of your sickness, you will still only get that initial 20% deduction for the first day.
And Swedish employees can take seven consecutive sick days before they need to provide a doctor’s notice to prove they are actually sick.
You even get paid time off when your kids are sick
In the US, one would typically use their accumulated sick days in order to care for a sick child. Luckily, Americans are protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act when their child is sick for a long period of time.
While this law protects parents’ ability to stay home with their sick children, the act gives the employee the right to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave in a 12-month period to care for the child. That means that the family can end up in a financially problematic situation.
In Sweden, there is a system in place to support parents with children who are sick. The nationwide VAB policy, which is short for “vård av barn,” or “care of child,” gives parents the right to paid leave from work to care for a child that is ill.
Just like the rules for parental leave, workers get around 80% of their pay up to $US100 per day. They have the right to 120 days of VAB per year. This system relieves families from immediate financial troubles and the parent can stay at home and care for their child without being docked a full day’s pay.
There are more boundaries between work and free time than in the US
Keeping a healthy boundary between free time and work is important for your stress levels and mental well-being.
The boundary between work and free time is, of course, highly dependent on your job position, but at a typical company in Sweden, people will go out of their way not to contact you outside work hours.
For many people I know working in the US, this seems not to be the case. Being contacted outside of work hours and even on weekends is fairly common and is not really seen as a problem, but more as a part of the job itself.
Some people have no problem with that, but it is nice to have a culture in which you try to respect employees’ time outside of the workplace. Most Swedish friends I speak with all feel their employers respect their time outside the office and only contact them when it’s absolutely necessary.
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