What Is It Really Like To Work At IKEA?

Not counting the Skarsgård brothers and ABBA, few Swedish exports are beloved intentionally as Ingvar Kamprad's home furnishing store, IKEA. The store grew from humble beginnings and is now a retail giant with more than 400 locations spread out across the globe. A bookshelf sold by the store, the BILLY, is so ubiquitous that Bloomberg uses its current price in different countries to track the value of global currencies. Seriously, the Bloomberg BILLY Bookcase Index is an actual thing.

The Financial Times reports that IKEA moved its international headquarters from Sweden to the Netherlands in 1986. There has been plenty of speculation that this move was an attempt to lower its annual tax bill, although all who work at IKEA deny this. However, no matter the location of the store, or the role of the employee, IKEA consistently ranks high on "best places to work" lists (via Great Place to Work Institute). How does the truth of working there actually hold up? Steen Kanter, a former IKEA manager, says: "IKEA is not a furniture retailer, but a social phenomenon." Does working at a social phenomenon seem any different than a regular retail outlet for the average employee? Let's find out.

It's not just retail

Usually, each city has only one IKEA location, and it's filled to the brim with retail workers assisting customers who get lost in the showroom's maze. But, according to the IKEA hiring website, the retail giant hires way more positions than a typical furniture storefront. For example, there are opportunities for chefs to work in the on-site cafe and whip up the world-famous Swedish meatballs each shift. IKEA also needs carpenters to help build and put together furniture options throughout the store.

However, if you tend to think more conceptually, IKEA also needs designers to help stage the showroom floor. These folks use their artistic eye to decide which colors, furniture pieces, and fun accents will best accentuate each showroom section. They also help buyers understand the different ways to use each piece within their home. For example, the best-selling KALLAX shelf can be displayed horizontally and vertically, so you'll often see that designers have styled it both ways.

You get a 15% store discount ... for life

Most retail stores have cool employee discounts on merchandise as an incentive to work there. But the IKEA employee discount takes things a little further than other stores do. Sure, all IKEA employees get 15% off merchandise during their time there, but if you work at IKEA for more than 15 years, you can take advantage of the discount for the rest of your life, according to Refinery29. Given that IKEA already offers chic homewares at affordable prices, we can only imagine how stylish the average IKEA employee's house looks.

But, if you choose to work at IKEA, a 15% discount isn't the only perk that you will be entitled to. IKEA will provide you with a free uniform, an annual bonus (no matter what!), $3 staff meals in the on-site cafe, an annual holiday gift, a 401k match program for retirement, and most importantly, paid time off (via IKEA). The best part is that even part-time IKEA employees are eligible for most of these benefits.

IKEA employees also get pretty cool holiday gifts

Being an IKEA employee around the holiday season sounds pretty great to us. In addition to the annual bonus we mentioned, you'll also get a pretty cool (and expensive!) yearly holiday gift. In years past, IKEA U.K. gifted all 9,000 employees with company-branded bicycles, per Employee Benefits. About 90 of these bicycles ended up on the internet for resale, but even that didn't stop IKEA from going even bigger and better for future employee gifts.

A few years later, IKEA announced that 14,000 employees were getting not one but two VR headsets for Christmas (via VRScout). That way, not only could the employee enjoy gaming in virtual reality but so could another family member or friend. But the gift also benefited IKEA as well. A year prior, the company launched a VR app to assist customers in visualizing furniture in their home, so they probably wanted their employees comfortable with the device. No matter the reason, the holiday presents alone might be a good enough reason to put in an application.

Your schedule might be confusing

When Cosmopolitan interviewed current and former IKEA employees about their experiences on the job, respondents revealed that one of the worst parts of working at IKEA was the scheduling. Employees often had to wait for the upcoming schedule to be released, only to be met with frustratingly inconsistent hours. However, this might not be too big a deterrent for working at IKEA. Unpredictable shift times and schedules that only come out two weeks in advance are typical for most retail jobs.

While it might not be possible to know your shifts at IKEA more than two or three weeks in advance, there are some ways to avoid being surprised or frustrated when each new roster is released. If you prefer to work the same shifts each period, or at least the same days, you should speak to your manager about your updated availability (via Indeed). Often, proactive employees who approach management directly with requests will see improvement.

You'll learn plenty of handy sales techniques

During your employment at IKEA, you'll learn plenty of clever sales techniques that you can use in your future jobs. As an IKEA customer, you might have noticed that the merchandise bins in the middle of the pathway are always full to the brim. According to Mental Floss, IKEA merchandisers do this to create an illusion of abundance. It's visually appealing to customers to see so many items all in one place. Not only that, but since there is so much of everything, it encourages shoppers to buy more. This is because, to most people, large production quantities equal cheap price tags.

This clever bin trick isn't the only thing you'll be taught if you work at IKEA, though. Another handy sales technique put into practice by the retail giant is a crafty way to keep shoppers engaged in the IKEA buying experience. In the showroom, IKEA ditches long, straight aisles in favor of a winding path that ends every 50 feet. This way, customers don't get bored while shopping and stop to inspect more merchandise.

But, you won't be trained to be pushy

According to The Independent, the level of customer service that most Americans would consider normal seems overwhelming to foreign visitors. Americans are used to a smiling waiter who constantly checks in with them to see how their meal is and if they need anything. Other cultures, particularly Europeans, might find this behavior intrusive. This is particularly true of Swedes. According to Cultural Atlas, Swedish people tend to be more reserved until a deeper connection is developed. They value privacy and tend not to approach others in public without a very specific and actionable reason to do so.

So, in true Scandinavian fashion, IKEA employees are trained not to help shoppers as they wander the showroom. Instead, if you work at IKEA, you'll be taught to leave customers to their own devices unless one specifically approaches you to ask for help (via Mental Floss). For shoppers who prefer to be left alone, this setup is ideal. However, if you work at an IKEA in a region where more customer service is culturally expected, it might be a bit difficult to get used to.

You witness plenty of in-store breakups

IKEA can sometimes bring out the best in some people. It allows folks to enhance their interior decorating skills and helps those on tight budgets design beautiful homes. But IKEA can also bring out the worst in people. Especially those who are frustrated by the endless sprawl of the showroom and the DIY nature of the furniture, per Refinery29. This rage is called "the IKEA effect," and it's very real. As an employee, you'll get a front-row seat. Luckily for employees, the "hands off" approach to customer service spare workers from dealing with arguing couples.

But it still can be an intriguing look into the human mind. Vice reports that so many couples get irritated while shopping at IKEA because the store's design is overwhelming and confusing (and it's like this on purpose, to draw shoppers in). Couples also might argue because choosing homewares can tap into many underlying issues in a relationship, some as small as differing tastes, and others as large as entirely different styles of communication.

IKEA employees become professionals at assembling furniture

Once couples get home from a day at IKEA, they might continue to argue about how to put together their recently purchased furniture. According to Real Homes, this is a task that is notoriously difficult for some people, and can lead to the continuation of the IKEA effect well after they've left the store. However, one of the perks of working at IKEA is that this is unlikely to ever happen to you. 

That is because someone has to put together all of the floor displays in the showroom, and it's usually the retail staff who do it. IKEA employees told Refinery29 that when they were new on the job, putting together the furniture was a bit of a chore. But after no time at all, they could put together the likes of a BILLY Bookcase in record time ... sometimes even without the directions.

The tone of customer interactions depends heavily on your department

Retail is a tough place to work, especially considering you interact with shoppers who have various attitudes, some worse than others. More often than not, retail employees put up with a lot of abuse from the general public. Similar to any other retail store, those who work at IKEA put up with their fair share of tough customers. But, according to Refinery29, things might be just a little bit easier if you work in Småland, IKEA's on-site child care center. Employees in Småland are treated with a bit more respect because shoppers are thankful they can explore the showroom without their children, knowing they are in good hands.

Things are a different story over in the returns department, unfortunately. Those employees seem to bear the brunt of negative employee interactions (via Reddit). From an outside perspective, it makes sense, as returns employees are constantly working with customers who have broken, defective, or unwanted products and seek a refund. If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider applying to a different department.

A positive experience depends on good management

As is the case with most retail jobs, your department's management can make or break your experience at work. According to Reddit, poor leadership at different IKEA locations led to many on-the-job frustrations and eventual work burnout. Comments suggest that managers at certain IKEA locations were disorganized, played favorites with certain employees, and made other team members work harder to make up for their poor performance. No one could blame those employees for leaving.

However, it's easy to see that experiences vary from store to store and person to person. Others on Reddit commended both IKEA and their local managers for being great leaders who were kind, enthusiastic, and very approachable. Other review sites, like Indeed, tell a similar story. If you want to work at IKEA and are concerned about the culture, exploring the company's commitments to fair pay, diversity, and global sustainability might be the deciding factor.

You'll spend a lot of time cleaning

IKEA employees are expected to keep the store in tip-top shape at all times. Even before COVID-19 cleaning protocols, IKEA prided itself on having a spotless showroom floor. According to Apartment Therapy, each IKEA store is entirely disinfected from top to bottom every night after closing. In fact, IKEA employees do such a good job that sometimes they even move the walls on the showroom floor to disinfect those hard-to-reach spaces.

While the sales team is cleaning the showroom floor, employees who work in Småland and the in-house cafe are also required to tidy their respective spaces. Employees report that Småland is one of the most challenging areas to clean because of the messier nature of young children. Parents leaving their children in Småland's care can rest easy, however, knowing that the entire ball pit is emptied and cleaned once a week, regardless of whether or not there has been an accident.

It can be hard to move up in the company

According to employee reviews left on Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about working at IKEA is that there aren't enough opportunities for career progression within the company. Because IKEA offers great, longstanding benefits, employees are encouraged to stay at the store, often staying in a retail career instead of moving on. However, these reviews give the impression that while many people have worked at IKEA for years, it can be tough to work your way into better-paying roles in the company.

When Cosmopolitan looked into what it's like to work at IKEA, employees warned of similar circumstances. Corporate employees advised that the nature of the job could be very repetitive sometimes. Yet while there were plenty of opportunities to move across to a new department if they wanted something a bit different, these moves were completely lateral and did not often come with a promotion or raise in pay.

Your level of customer service will inspire comedy

Scott Seiss is a former IKEA call center employee who makes spoofs of the crazy conversations he used to get working on the front lines of the Swedish superstore, according to Laughing Squid. In the comedy series, Seiss pretends to be a part-time, seasonal employee of the retail giant who, in some sketches, has already put in his two weeks notice. His candor with the imaginary customers on the other end of his conversations will make anyone who has ever worked in retail chuckle.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Seiss' time in the IKEA call center really opened his eyes to just how wild the general public can be. One customer, upset that a replacement part for his IKEA table was severely delayed, went on to send Seiss a video of him burning the table instead of waiting. The videos — which, after hearing the table-burning story, don't seem like they are too far-fetched — have been viewed millions of times across Tik Tok, Twitter, and other social media platforms.