There is one thing that never fails to raise my work mood – taking a coffee or lunch break with my colleagues. Sometimes the talk is about work, and sometimes not. It usually involves laughter – which is of course a powerful mood elevator. Occasionally there is a mutual rant about something which is cathartic. After these breaks I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for the presence of my colleagues – it’s one reason why I could never work totally from home. However, I don’t take these breaks as often as I should and whilst digging around in the files on my laptop I found something I wrote along similar lines following a work visit to Stockholm in September, but never got around to posting. Having just had a mood-enhancing coffee break, now seems like a good time.
“Fika” is a very important event in the Swedish day, and means “to take a coffee break, usually with something sweet like a cinnamon bun, with your colleagues, friends, family or date”. At my research panel meetings in Stockholm this week, we have had fika at 10am and 3 pm. My Swedish colleagues started getting twitchy around 9.45 and were noticeably watching the clock obsessively to see where to stop the discussion in order to have fika – there was no question of missing it! Our fika had small bread rolls with cheese or turkey and salad in them alongside the strong coffee. I have absolutely no idea how most of the Swedes I have met seem to be so slim and healthy looking given this fika habit, but I suspect the nature of the food has something to do with it. The combination of protein and carbohydrate in the morning meant that I didn’t get the usual sugar rollercoaster from having sweet biscuits. Although cake was available at the afternoon “fika”, this was alongside little pots of fresh fruit salad, which were really refreshing. It was also noticeable that largely the conversations had during fika were little to do with our meeting. It seems that fika is truly a coffee “break”. I think we returned to work 15 minutes later, benefiting from having had a break from the business at hand. Swedish colleagues described it as crucial for building and maintaining relationships with their teams at work by having a short but regular opportunity to get to know what else is going on in people’s lives.
Back in the UK, our coffee area is in an open plan area next to the desks of our PhD students. When we moved over here 2 years ago (good grief), we discussed how to manage this and effectively designated “fika” times when it was acceptable to have some chat over coffee or food, giving the PhD students the freedom to object to noise outside those times. So in theory we have the opportunity to do “fika” in the same way. However, only a few people are there every day and if I’m honest I rarely make it. Perhaps this is because our time is 11am and I am usually hungry and desperate for caffeine by 10 so I have mine at my desk early and then don’t feel like stopping again until lunch time. But, after this week I am more convinced of the wider benefit of a shared and regular “fika” so I think I will try to encourage it and attend it more. Especially as we have new folks on the upper floor of our building and it would be good to get together often. Now, who can I persuade to make some tasty treats?
Clearly I haven’t yet managed to achieve a regular “fika” here, but perhaps it’s time to try again.