With 480 days to share between both parents, Sweden has one of the most generous parental leave systems in the world. And the majority of those days, 390 to be precise, are paid at a very pleasing 80 percent of your salary.
And the help doesn’t stop there. After their first birthday, children can attend preschool for the more-than-reasonable maximum cost of 1,287 kronor (€135) a month. Put simply, Sweden takes care of its own.
For Symposium Stockholm CEO Natalia Brzezinski, Sweden’s facilitation of family life works twofold: enabling men and women to continue work after having children encourages gender equality, and helps industries thrive.
“When you empower male and female parents to work,” she says. “you get a much more dynamic set of ideas coming to the table.”
Stockholm-based Brit Jamie Keen, senior producer at gaming powerhouse DICE, found the Swedish system hugely helpful for both him and his wife after the birth of their son, Max.
“In Sweden, we can share the impact of having children. It gives us both the chance to put our careers first. Parenthood is never easy, but the things you don’t have to worry about in addition, like the parental leave and cost of daycare, just makes it 100 percent easier to have kids here.”
Following three months’ parental leave earlier this year, Jamie surprised himself by instantly regretting he had not taken longer.
“Before I took the time off everyone was saying to me, ‘You’re going to want to take six months!’ and then sure enough by the end of the three months I wished I had.
“It’s just such a lovely opportunity to spend time with your kids. Now my son comes to me as well as my wife when he needs soothing. It’s really special to be able to develop that relationship.”
Digital marketing consultant Erwan Derlyn, who moved to Sweden in 2008 to study for his Master’s, wholeheartedly agrees.
“It’s beneficial for all parties to have the parental support. Men get to spend more time with their children early on, and it’s healthy for the couple too. Other countries should be more incentivised to do the same, because it’s for the well-being of the child.”
But it wasn’t just the generous parental leave that inspired Erwan, originally from France, to make Sweden his home. It was the country’s relaxed pace and Stockholm’s flourishing tech scene that sealed the deal.
“I love the life here. I’m quite a calm person, and I like that everything is organised here. There’s no stress, which is great. The tech environment wasn’t as big when I started, but then it really exploded with Skype. Since I started working in digital, I realised the potential of tech and became fascinated with the scene.
“There are so many cool startups and Swedes are really good at making change happen. It’s a good place to live and a great place to push boundaries. The innovation pace is incredible, and there’s lots of opportunity for people on the tech scene.”
Supportive companies and infrastructure
It was while working as head of organic acquisition at fintech and e-payments pioneer iZettle that Erwan’s first son was born.
“They were really supportive, that’s one of the advantages of the way of life in Sweden. For about six months, I was taking Fridays off and looking after my son for three days a week, and that was no problem with iZettle.”
And even after Erwan had taken his pappaledighet, Swedish for paternity leave, iZettle continued to accommodate for his new situation.
“When preschool started, my wife went back to work again. Our son had just begun to walk so he was exhausted after a few hours. I was able to leave work at 3pm to go and pick him up, and then just continue working from home in the evenings, finalising emails and so on. This went on for more than six months, it was really flexible for me.”
Jamie had a similar experience with his company - something that helped him to see where his priorities should lie.
“DICE was more than supportive. Actually, when I was talking to one of the line managers, I mentioned I was a bit worried about it. We were coming up to the end of a project, so things were about to change and opportunities were going to present themselves.
“I asked him if he thought I was going to jeopardise my career, and he said ‘Do you know how weird that sounds to a Swede? First of all, it’s illegal for your career to be jeopardised because of it, and secondly work should be for your family and not the other way around.’ That was just such a wonderful thing to hear, to have that understanding and have the company’s full blessing is so important.”
And like iZettle, DICE has been extremely supportive of Jamie’s new routine.
“My wife and I take turns dropping Max off at preschool, and then the other picks him up in the afternoon. It’s a balancing act and you do need to make some compromises, but everyone understands. Lots of people at work have kids, everyone knows family comes first. If you have to go, you have to go, and companies here understand that. No-one bats an eyelid.”
And the help doesn’t stop at work. Both Jamie and Erwan believe that even the city itself is designed to support family life.
“There’s a cultural understanding that family is important,” Jamie explains. “Lots of things here are geared towards family life. And it’s a way more outdoorsy lifestyle here. Even in the winter, we go outside and play. We don’t get proper winters in the UK anymore, but here we can go outside and build proper snowmen!”
“It sounds like a cliche, but the city itself is amazing - it’s so easy to get around, the transport is really good, there are so many parks, and there’s so much to do for families,” he adds.
“In Stockholm, to be able to just go to a lake and swim when it’s warm, or see the animals in the forest, with everything reachable by subway or train and so well organised. It’s the dream.”