Why Sweden Takes So Much Vacation Time

Sandhamn, Sweden
Sandhamn, Sweden | ©Tomasz Dunn/Flickr
Judi Lembke

Sweden takes more vacation time than any other country in the world – 41 paid days annually, to be exact. Why do Swedes take so much vacation time? And is it sustainable in the global economy?
While 41 paid vacation days sounds huge to non-Europeans, it’s actually just the statutory minimum: when you throw in things like personal days, grief leave, public holidays (called red days), and even a day off when you’re moving house, it means Swedes could be away from the office nearly two months of the year.

This all might make Swedes come across as a tad lazy but interestingly, Forbes magazine has named Sweden the best country for business in 2017. It’s also no secret that the tech and startup scene is one of the strongest in the world, with investment per capita in Stockholm second only to Silicon Valley.

Beach at Böda, Sweden

But vacation time is changing in Sweden. Traditionally, Swedes would take four or five weeks off in the summer, head to their country houses (usually in July), and the country would more or less shut down. These days, however, people are splitting up their vacation days. July is still when most people take at least a few weeks off, but now they might take a week or a few days here and there throughout the year as well.

Hiking in northern Sweden

None of this, though, explains why Swedes take so much holiday time. The most basic answer is: tradition. Sweden has long been very progressive when it comes to worker’s rights and a ‘fair’ amount of vacation time has only grown since the early 20th century, when workers’ rights really came to the fore. The bigger answer is that Swedes have discovered that taking a lot of vacation time actually makes them more productive; when you have time to unwind, destress, and enjoy all that life has to offer you come back to work refreshed, full of ideas, and ready to crack on with gusto.

Traditional Swedish summer cottage

There’s even a law governing vacation leave, called the Annual Leave Act. Basically, it gives all workers the right to the statutory amount of leave based on their terms of employment, and it is illegal to negotiate a contract without including vacation time. Additionally, Swedes can ‘save’ vacation days: after the first 20 vacation days are taken, an employee can save remaining days for up to five years. Even better? Employers must inform employees when those ‘saved’ days are about to run out – and allow the employee to use them before they are lost.

So while the way Swedes take vacation leave might be slowly changing and restaurants no longer close for most of July, there is no danger of the good people of Sweden losing their spot at the top of annual holiday leave. If anything, they’ll probably figure out how to take even more, while still keeping productivity high.

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