Discrimination, bullying, and violence at Finnish workplaces

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The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment published additional results of their 2020 Working Life Barometer today. This report also includes information about discrimination, bullying, and violence at Finnish workplaces in 2020. The information is based on employee observations of these phenomena.

In this blog post, I will look into what the report says about the dark side of Finnish workplaces. 

The Working Life Barometer

The Ministry has been publishing these annual Working Life Barometers for thirty years. I’ve used the results of the 2020 Barometer results in one previous blog. I’ve also reported on previous years’ results in some of my earlier blogs

This current Barometer is based on a survey the Ministry commissioned in August and September of last year. The Barometer focuses on the views of employees and how they see working life in Finland. 

The Barometer results are representative of the Finnish working life. The results are widely used in research, political decision-making, and drafting of employment-related laws in Finland. 

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Surveying discrimination, bullying, and violence at Finnish workplaces

The Working Life Barometer survey asked employees to assess whether there is discrimination, bullying, and violence at their workplace. 

The survey does not ask after their own experiences of those phenomena. Rather, they were asked whether they had observed them. Another survey tool, the Working Conditions Survey, examines the own experiences of Finnish employees of these matters. 

The survey focuses on discrimination based on age (old and young), gender, ethnic/national background, health, and the type of employment. The employment type here means permanent vs. fixed-term employment contract, and full-time vs. part-time employment contracts.

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health defines workplace bullying as negative treatment that is repetitive, long-lasting, and systematic. It can include invalidation, subjugation, and insulting others. 

In the Working Life Barometer, it also includes talking about others behind their backs, threatening or otherwise pressuring behavior, as well as isolating others from the work community. 

In terms of violence at the workplace, the Working Life Barometer focuses on violence or the threat of violence perpetrated by clients. 

Discrimination at Finnish workplaces in 2020

In 2020, Finnish employees had witnessed discrimination based on old and young age approximately in the same frequency. About 7 % of employees had witnessed discrimination based on old age. 6 % of employees reported witnessing it based on young age. 

The proportion of employees reporting to have witnessed discrimination based on young age has remained almost constant for the last 20 years or so. 

Instead, the percentage of employees reporting to have witnessed discrimination based on old age has decreased over time. In 2001, 11 % of employees observed discrimination based on old age. Last year, that proportion had dropped to 7 %.

Discrimination of women was clearly more common (6 %) than discrimination of men (2 %). These percentages have remained pretty much the same for the last 20 years.

Most commonly employees reported having observed discrimination based on employment relationship type. 11 % of employees reported that they had observed discrimination of those with a fixed-term employment contract. 6 % reported having observed discrimination that was based on the part-time nature of the employment contract.

The Working Life Barometer has tracked observations of health-based discrimination since 2015. Then, 9 % of employees said they had observed it at their workplace. In 2020, 8 % said they had. 

In 2000, the Working Life Barometer for the first time asked after observations of discrimination based on ethnicity or nationality. Then, 27 % of employees reported that they had coworkers with a foreign background. Last year, this percentage had risen to 49.   

In workplaces where there were employees with foreign backgrounds, 4 % of employees had observed discrimination based on that criterion in 2020. This percentage hasn’t really changed much. In the report published in 2001, 6 % of employees had observed this type of discrimination. 

Bullying at Finnish workplaces in 2020

Questions about workplace bullying have been in the Barometer since 2012. The results from 2020 are depressing although the change is towards the positive.

In 2020, 53 % of employees had observed bullying at their workplace at least occasionally. In 2012, 59 % of employees had. 

Women (62 %) observe at least occasional bullying at the workplace more often than men (44 %).

Most often employees (35 %) had observed co-workers constantly or sometimes bullying other employees. But they had also seen constant or occasional bullying by clients (34 %) or managers (22 %).

The share of employees who had observed co-workers bullying others constantly has been around 3 % for the last ten years. 

Physical violence at Finnish workplaces in 2020

The Working Life Barometer focuses on the violence (or the threat thereof) that is perpetrated by clients. 

In 2020, 21 % of employees had observed someone experience violence or its threat at least once during the previous 12 months. In addition, 9 % of employees reported that they themselves have been victims of or been threatened by violence at least once during the previous 12 months. 

Witnessing violence at the workplace is significantly more common for women (31 %) than it is for men (11 %). The same is true for being a victim of violence or its threat. 14 % of women had experienced violence themselves at least once. Of men, only 4 % reported having experienced it themselves.

Violence and the threat of violence are much more common in the municipal sector than anywhere else. 49 % of municipal employees had observed violence. 21 % had experienced it themselves. 

In the governmental sector, 18 % had observed violence. 5 % had experienced it themselves. In the private service sector, the percentages were 17 and 7 respectively. 

According to the Working Conditions Survey, the threat of violence has increased over the years especially for women. The difference between genders is mostly explained by the gender segregation of the Finnish labor market.  

We know from the Working Conditions Survey that violence is particularly prominent in health care professions. Those professions are to a large degree occupied by women. The threat of violence has also increased in teaching professions. That is another professional group that is heavily female-dominated in Finland. 

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