HOW DO YOU MAKE IT TO THE TOP OF our list of Most Loved Workplaces? It's simple, but not easy: Build a company culture that actually puts people first. In the case of this year's winner, international music streaming behemoth Spotify, one key to doing that is starting with Swedish parts.
The company has offices all over the world and the largest is in New York City, but its headquarters and roots are in Stockholm. As it has grown, Spotify has kept big characteristically Swedish things like a relatively flat management structure, a “no prima donnas” employee policy, a corporate culture that emphasizes teamwork and openness as well as perks—some of which, though required by law in Sweden, are almost unheard of elsewhere. Like, for instance, six months of paid leave for all new parents, including men.
There's more. Much more.
This February the company adopted a "work from anywhere” policy under which employees are encouraged to live wherever they choose and connect digitally. This November, Spotify is giving all its employees the first week of the month off to recharge somewhat from the stresses of the pandemic, with all work emails, Zoom meetings, phone calls—actively discouraged. (Spotify will still be available to listeners, of course, and employees who need to work to keep the network running will get the following week off.).
Then there are little things, like "fika.” Although the word corresponds roughly to “coffee break” in American English, in Sweden fika is part of the national character, a daily reminder of commitment to work/life balance. Adam Winer, an American Spotify senior director for content strategy, analytics and insights says, in Sweden, “you hear "oh, it's fika time. Let's get out the cinnamon rolls and the coffee and whatever." Winer says he now uses fika as a hiring tool, having a promising candidate hang informally with four or five Spotifiers over coffee as part of the interview process.
He confesses to having been a little skeptical at first about what he heard about collaboration and access to senior executives up to, and including, the founders. “It's not like Amazon where managers are expected to fire their bottom 10 percent...the level of transparency blew me away,” he says. “You hear about it but then you're surprised to see it.”
Winer adds: “With a lot of perks at other tech companies there's this sense that they're treating you nicely so you'll work hard, to keep you in the office. Here it's because they genuinely care about you as a human being: 'We're Swedish! We believe these things! Our culture is we all go to the beach for a month in the summer and shut everything down because Sweden is dark and terrible for nine months out of the year so we must all enjoy it and that's well-being and that's important to us.'
Founded in 2006 in Stockholm by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, Spotify reshuffled the music business, replacing sharing operations like Napster with legal licensing and eventually making mobile phones the device most people use to find and listen to music. Some big stars like Taylor Swift compiled—and many still do about the royalty rates Spotify offers. But after pulling her music off the service, Swift and the company eventually came to terms.
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