Swedish Phrases You Should Know for the Workplace

Navigating the Swedish workplace
Navigating the Swedish workplace | © Susanne Walström / imagebank.sweden.se
Judi Lembke

Although Sweden is regularly named as one of the most productive countries in the world, Swedes seem to have a lot of phrases and expressions that are excuses to bunk off work, or at least complain quite a bit. Here are some of them, as well as some other key Swedish phrases that will help you navigate the Swedish workplace successfully.

You’re calling in sick


When your kid is sick and you need to stay home to take care of them, you say you are vabbar – you’re home sick with the kids, and can’t be contacted.

Looking after a sick child

On the other hand, if you’re home with sick kids but still able to answer emails, you are vobbar. This is sometimes used when you just want to work from home and are lucky enough to have children about whose state of health you can lie. Then again, you may have a big project going on, and if you’re vobbar, while your kid sleeps off the flu you can still be online.

Working from home


Maybe the kids are OK but the dog, cat or goldfish is not. If that’s the case, you are voffar – at home with a sick pet who needs your tender ministrations.

Poor little fluffy is not feeling well

You’re late, or perhaps not showing up at all

Arbetar hemifrån

Arbetar hemifrån literally means ‘working from home’, something people increasingly do without resorting to any sick kid or sick pet excuses. And while this is sometimes abused (because who doesn’t know a remote-working colleague who never seems to produce anything?) Swedes are pretty honest; sure, they might take a fika in the middle of the day, but they’ll still get their work done.

Working from the comfort of home


You’re late, or maybe you can’t get into the office at all. Why? Well, there’s snökaos – snow chaos – which is a very handy excuse when you’ve overslept and notice a few flakes coming down. That said, Swedes are used to snow, so if it’s just a dusting, you’ll be getting a lot of passive aggressive sighs the next time you show up at work.

Sometimes the snow gets to even the Swedes

Stopp i trafiken

Sweden has excellent public transportation, with trains and buses running like clockwork, and car traffic is heavy but not unmanageable. Sometimes, though, there are problems, and that means you can message your boss and say stopp i trafikentraffic has stopped – but be warned that any problem with traffic will mean everyone in the surrounding area will be messaging one another, so it’s not easy to get away with fudging this one.

It’s not really your fault if the traffic stops

Meetings and work


Swedes love to go on courses and conferences for work, either to update their skills, use up money in the budget or simply have an excuse for plenty of after-work drinks. Either way, if you’re away on a course you say processhantering, which literally means ‘process management’ but really means you’re off improving your skills.

Swedes love a good conference

Många bollar i luften

You’re juggling a lot of things and that means you’ve got många bollar i luften – a lot of balls in the air. This one can be applied to many areas of life, of course, and if you’re a parent, you could possibly combine it with vobber or vabber and really take some serious time off from work.

Juggling work can be challenging


This means you’re so stressed you’ve hit the wall and can’t possibly go on. If this happens to you in Sweden, you see your doctor and get sjukskriven – a doctor’s note to your employer saying you can’t work – and then you probably see a counsellor, do some physical therapy or, if you can really swing it, convince your boss to give you a different job in the organisation. The good news is that while you’re written off work, you still get paid 80% of your salary.

When it all gets too much
landscape with balloons floating in the air


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