Why is the verb not in the second position here? In other words, why is it not "De arbetar bara."?
"Bara" is kind of an odd word. It can move around a lot, going before what it refers to.
Is this "just" in the sense of "easily", in the sense of "only", or "barely"? The difference between "my amazing device just works!", "my employees just work, I wish they'd relax", and "that guess just worked".
Not 'easily', but 'only' – working is the only thing they do. It could imply some disappointment, but I don't think it's necessary. If you say about a device that 'it just works', you would change the verb in Swedish and say den fungerar/funkar bara.
Can "De bara arbeter" also express relief that they aren't doing something worse?
I'm guessing it's the second one you said ("my employees just work etc), because if you look at the alternate translations for "bara", "only" is one of them. I could be wrong though!
To me, this sentence expresses some disappointment, as you exemplified in your latter example.
Barely is knappt in Swedish. There are two pretty common phrasal ways of saying it too, nätt och jämnt, and med nöd och näppe.
Shouldnt the adverb always go after the verb in swedish when starting with people? Is bara an exception or am I missing the rule?
bara is one of the very few exceptions. Kanske is another one.
Both ways are still ok of course so you can still say De arbetar bara, too.
I thought "bara" also means "only" , I gave in "they work only" but it wasn't accepted .... how would I say that then in Swedish?