"In the UK workers are treated like medieval peasants"

Paul's former UK boss ordering his staff to get his lunch.
Paul's former UK boss ordering his staff to get his lunch.

Engelska 26 juni 2023 09:00

When you read this I will be on the first day of a three-week semester. Or on holiday if you’re English, or vacation if you’re from North America, or either term if you’re from the Indian subcontinent.

Three whole weeks!

“Good for you,” I hear you say, “But stop gloating about your bloody holiday.”

Bear with me. Of course, when I lived in the UK I was also entitled to summer holidays. But we were usually limited to an absolute maximum of two weeks at a time. Newspapers in the UK didn’t like staff taking too much time off. 

The management were so busy cutting jobs, they needed those employees they hadn’t yet let go to absorb ever-expanding responsibilities - and taking time off from those duties was overtly discouraged. One editor I worked for told me bluntly, “We’re relaunching your magazine this summer, so don’t do anything stupid like book some time off.”

It was news to me that the magazine I edited was even being relaunched (sadly, it was not unusual for management to decide on a new direction without consulting the editor), but I still had to cancel my upcoming two-week break in Spain. 

Taking time off was, in reality, optional, and it was your employer who decided if you would use it, not you. That was just the price you paid for doing a job you liked. 12-13 hour work days were also a non-negotiable part of the deal.

The difference between Sweden and the UK when it comes to work-life balance is stark. 

The UK, in a disastrous process kick-started by Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the 1980s, has relentlessly weakened the position of employees in favour of giving increasing amounts of power to employers to do with their workers what they want. 

By contrast, Sweden’s principle of 'lagom,' while being occasionally undermined by successive governments, is deeply ingrained in Swedish society, including in the workplace, driving an ethos of balance and contentment.

Rather than encouraging excessive hours or an 'always-on' culture, most Swedish workplaces prize efficiency and productivity within reasonable time limits. 

This way, Sweden not only maintains high levels of productivity but also minimizes worker burnout, reduces stress, and fosters a healthier relationship between employees and their work.

For someone who came to Sweden from a toxic workplace in the UK that operated as a kind of medieval feudal kingdom where the workers were treated as peasants, the difference is astonishing. 

Employers who actually take their duty of care responsibilities seriously? Bosses who actively encourage you to take time off? Whatever next? Two, officially sanctioned, twenty-minute coffee breaks every day?


This article is a column and the opinions are the writers own.

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