The word “Friskvård” can be translated to mean “Wellness” or “healthcare” and is used in the Swedish work environment to mean preventative measures taken to guard one’s health.
At the software company where I work in Stockholm, each employee receives 3,000 kronor (roughly $436.) each year to spend on Friskvård. The employee can elect what to spend it on (there are limitations, of course) and then get reimbursement from the company. In Sweden, employers pay for health care for employees without paying taxes and then they can take the so-called wellness deduction.
Prevent is a Swedish nonprofit that works to prevent injury and disease development as well as to spot early trends and tendencies in the working environment. Here are some excerpts from their website so you can get the idea of what Friskvård means:
…Despite people’s awareness of the importance of a healthier lifestyle for improved health and ambitions for improving health habits, there are still many who are not physically active enough, who eat improperly, and who fail to quit smoking.
… It is clear that health care is good for work performance and efficiency. For the employer it is, in most cases, also profitable. Wellness efforts also contribute to increased solidarity and well-being, which in turn improves the psychosocial work environment.
…A prerequisite for wellness in the workplace will result in employees who are more actively involved and who take responsibility for decisions about changing their habits and lifestyle to promote health. The employer may, in turn, aim to improve conditions and opportunities for employees to arrive at this decision and to actively make these changes.
I don’t know about you, but I have never, EVER, heard anyone worry about the psychosocial work environment in my American workplace!
What can working Swedes spend their Friskvård on?
The Tax Board (Skatteverket) lists the current rules on tax-free exercise and other wellness “activities” that an employee can seek reimbursement for.
The main idea seems to be that the activity must be simple. Sports that require expensive equipment or peripheral equipment such as golf, sailing, horseback riding and downhill skiing are not covered by tax exemption.
The Tax Board says:
Examples include gymnastics, weight lifting, spinning, bowling, racquet sports like table tennis, tennis, badminton or squash, team sports like volleyball, soccer, handball and hockey.
Other activities of a similar nature, such as simpler forms of exercise (including) folk dance, square dance and jazz dance, etc. may be accepted if other conditions for tax exemption for staff welfare benefits are met.
It also covers preventive health care such Tai Chi, quigong, nutrition counseling, information on stress management, prevention courses for expectant parents, and office massage.
The concept of office massage falls under Tax idea treatments that are relaxing, or designed to prevent and combat soreness and stiffness…anything that may arise in connection with repetitive work. It can also be rose-therapy, acupressure, kinesiology, reflexology…Even a simpler kind of pedicure or foot massage can be seen as wellness.
What can’t be paid for with Friskvård?
Training with a personal trainer is not considered a simpler kind of exercise. Sports that do not involve motion (in the sense of physical training) are not tax exempt. Examples of such sports are pistol shooting, agility, bridge, chess and choir…with the exception of choral singing in the workplace. (I swear that’s what it says! Read for yourself…)
Choral singing in the workplace? I think I’ll suggest that at the next company meeting.