Photo by Visit Stockholm / http://mediabank.visitstockholm.com/
Allow expats work-life balance on their own terms. They may be looking for something different than you think. Our experience is that most expats wish to experience passion for their work, they are drawn to jobs that offer them feelings of excitement, purpose, camaraderie, and intellectual growth.
Do you sometimes get so involved in a task that you totally lose track of time? In some cultures it’s called flow, in others it’s Ikigai. Ikigai is a term relates to feeling that life is meaningful, that you are engaging in something that has meaning for you, and that you live in harmony. Being fortunate enough to work for a company that provides true value and meaning, perhaps even lifesaving services or products, would most likely contribute greatly to feelings of passion for work and life in general.
In many instances what we offer, work-life balance, is evaluated on only one measurable yardstick. That yardstick is how many hours you work. Yet, this doesn’t give the full picture. There is so much more to being human and feeling satisfied with both personal life and work. Work-life satisfaction goals are influenced by how and where you live and what your expectations are in relation to those around you. An interesting article in Harvard Business Review mentions that we look to our parents to either copy or do the opposite of their work life choices.
So, in our modern world, work-life balance may not be what you think. In Sweden, we often equate balance with fewer hours in the office praising ourselves for being very efficient. Then we rush home to our second jobs, the family, picking up children and being engaged in their activities, cooking, cleaning and falling into bed. While we see in global expat studies that, in fact, satisfaction with work and personal life (Ikigai) is what is rated by employees. More and more, people are searching for their work to be an extension of their values, their personal brands, and their life goals.
Photo by Helén Pe / http://mediabank.visitstockholm.com/
There are many ways of helping employees achieve Ikigai and satisfaction. The elements that may be used to judge this may be different around the world. A good salary, reasonable healthcare, short or at least easy commute to work and flexibility with work hours are just some examples. Others may be working for an exciting company with a big mission, or being part of disrupting an industry where the employees are constantly learning and growing.
Nimmersion’s long running survey revealed, to our surprise, that expats moving to Sweden are focused on their careers and not on leisure activities at all. They are coming to Sweden for work and are focused on contributing as high performers their new companies. In fact this was so prevalent that we built an online program called Professional Inspiration to support expats in achieving work/life success in Sweden. We do provide information on night life, activities and restaurants although less than a third cared about these things, even though the average responder was quite young. The expats we work with are an ambitious crowd. Many are coming to Sweden for a growth experience and are happy to work hard for it.
So Ikigai and work-life balance can come in many disguises.
Just last week I heard this real-life story.
A Project Manager told the customer that “We have a problem with the working hours here”
The customer asks “Why”?
The Project Manager responds “Our team wants to work longer hours and to work Saturdays as well.”
The customer again asks “ Why”?
The Project Manager answers “Well, they are here temporarily and want to cut their overhead with housing costs, work efficiently and go back to their own countries to be with their families. They simply don’t want to waste two days per week on fishing and walking around”
This story isn’t unusual and expats are often here for a variety of reasons. The talent that moves to a new country are ambitious, smart and typically well educated. They are also courageous to leave their comfort zone and well-established networks to work elsewhere. We can help them and let it be worth their while.
So why do expats make this bold move to live and work far from home? It can relate to;
- They see better opportunities in a new country - perhaps they are leaving something behind and are looking for a better future. We definitely notice which countries have unrest of dismal futures for youth in what nationalities are seeking to work in Sweden.
- They are highly specialized and the country they are moving to have companies that can offer them a chance to dig deep into their area of interest.
- They have a fairly fresh education and want to elevate that by working within their field to contribute to their own development and selected projects.
- They are looking to come short term to work and save funds to get established in their home countries.
- They may be expected to provide support to their families at home as payback for being sent to school and allowed to leave their families behind.
There can be many reasons why expats want to accelerate the work they are doing. We can find the same passion amongst startup partners who want to do the same as time is of the essence to get ahead of the curve. How about letting these passionate individuals, regardless of reason, unleash their powers to work hard to achieve personal and company goals in a short amount of time?
Sweden and many other countries in Europe are known for their focus on work-life balance. Some countries even have it as a selling point where employees that come from very hardcore work cultures and can be appealed by having reasonable work hours, weekends off and even take a vacation. There is a middle way though, and it’s time to look at what that actually means.
Working on weekends is not unusual around the world, but in Sweden, it’s not upheld as good practice. In the US many professionals go to work on Sundays to prepare for the week. It makes them feel good about easing into the new work week and gives an opportunity to wrap up loose ends. Spending some time in a quiet office is treasured by many just like some people like to start very early in the morning for the same reason. Looking for the quiet and uninterrupted time seems to be popular globally.
For many expats working longer hours is just a natural continuation of how they have worked before and their expectations on work-life in general. Especially in the beginning, many find it comforting to spend more time in the office since the have fewer commitments and friends.
Sweden is good at streamlining the way things are done and there is a certain rigidity to staying within the boundaries of that. So when Sebastian Siemiatkowski, the founder of the successful fintech firm Klarna said “I don’t believe in work-life balance he had to clarify that he didn’t expect people to work super-long hours, but that people who joined his team were most often really excited to be part of an incredible journey even after 5 PM. Some, I’m sure, want to accelerate the disruption with smart thoughts and invention as well as to being allowed to put in time. 77% of expats in Sweden are pleased with their work hours and the Klarna team are presumably part of that large group.
A recent example is that while expats in the Czech republic work more than the global average of 44.3 hours per week, they are considerably more satisfied with their jobs than the global average. Obviously something more than hours is measured here. Some mention good healthcare and longer vacations as valued perks from a neighboring European country.
New startup founders who want to achieve the success of Klarna, Tobii and TrueCaller will also need to gather the best and most ambitious talents. This can be a difficult challenge, to harness such ambition to be the best in the world but for expats this could be exactly what they want, a once in a lifetime opportunity to take the amazing growth opportunity and ride on the wave.
An updated form of work life balance would do well do include factors like;
Working with a passionate team
Fun office culture
Being on the cutting edge of Innovation
The opportunity for skills growth
Knowing you are contributing to the world
Contributing to the well being of others
Enjoyable family life
Access to good schools
Access to good healthcare
Good health personal and family
It would be important to know which of these offerings your expats are looking for, and which are a part of your company culture. Knowing this information helps you to understand how to offer the most desireable package to your new hires. You can use these perks, and company offerings as a way to attract your ideal employees.
Passion for life part tends to get lost when we only use measurable facts in our thinking.
Perhaps this is one reason to replace work-life balance with Ikigai or Flow that is a more holistic description of what we as humans feel.
Signed off by someone that ranks high on work-life satisfaction without correlating that to few working hours.
If you are planning on sending employees to Sweden, you can learn loads of useful information from our Guide to Bringing Foreign Talent to Sweden.