Recent changes in well-being at work in Finland

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In this blog post, we take a look at a recent study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. In it, they tracked changes in well-being at work in Finland during the last year or so. 

We’ve written several blogs about well-being at Finnish workplaces in the past (here’s a selection). We’ve also written plenty about COVID and its impact on Finnish workplaces. This current blog looks specifically at changes in well-being during the pandemic thus combining the two topics. 

There are three learnings employers should take from the survey results if they are interested in retaining their employees. These relate to young employees, those working remotely full-time, and managers.   

Do you need personalized help with your transition to Finland or with finding your career path here? Check out our coaching and consulting services from our Inspiration Catalog.

Background to the study

The Finnish Institute for Occupational Health was running a research program related to burnout in late 2019 and early 2020 just before the COVID pandemic hit. As a part of that study, they conducted surveys of Finnish workers.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the researchers of the Institute decided to invite those who had participated in the survey to contribute to another study. This new one planned to find out how Finnish workers were coping with COVID and the unprecedented challenges it presented to workplaces. 

This first cohort of participants included 384 respondents. They’ve answered these well-being-related questions every six months or so now from late 2019 onwards. 

In addition to restudying the previous cohort of employees, the researchers also invited another group of employees to participate in this study on the impact of COVID.

This other cohort consists of 605 respondents. To date, they’ve answered these questions now three times.

All the respondents are Finnish employees of 18-65 in age. The researchers selected them randomly from the Finnish population register and from the Taloustutkimus internet panel.  They weighted the statistical analyses of the responses based on the age, gender, and geographical location of the respondents. 

There are three key takeaways in this study for employers should they want to improve things or at least retain their employees. Before we talk about the results, however, let’s briefly look at what the study actually measured.  

Measured indicators of well-being at work

In this study, the researchers of the Finnish Insitute for Occupational Health looked at five different indicators of well-being at work.

They examined work engagement with three questionnaire questions or statements. Work engagement refers to a positive emotional and motivational state. Dedication to and immersion in work are components of work engagement in this study. So is the energy with which one does their job.

They also looked at boredom at work. They studied this with three questions or statements. Boredom comes from a lack of challenge and stimulus at work or in individual tasks. Boredom shows up as decreased motivation, inability to concentrate, and the slow passage of time. 

The third indicator of changes in well-being at work in Finland in this study is burnout symptoms. Burnout is the result of prolonged stress at work. Signs of burnout include chronic fatigue, cognitive problems, problems with emotion regulation, and mental distancing from work. This last one refers to increased cynicism. For signs of burnout, they had several questions or statements in the survey.

The fourth indicator of well-being in this study is job satisfaction. Job satisfaction stems from positive evaluations of one’s work and work experiences. It reflects satisfaction with the current work situation. There was one question or statement probing this aspect. 

The last indicator was work ability. Researchers asked the respondents to evaluate their current work ability against the time they had had their best work ability. 

Study results:  recent changes in well-being at work in Finland

Overall, the study reveals that well-being at work in Finland decreased during the pandemic. It didn’t, however, do so across all indicators. 

Symptoms associated with burnout are now slightly more common than they were before the pandemic. This is particularly true with cognitive problems and cynicism.

Respondents also feel that their work ability is now lower than before the pandemic. 

Work engagement and job satisfaction, in turn, didn’t show a significant turn for the worse. So it doesn’t seem all bad. A closer examination of the results, however, reveals some interesting – and worrisome – recent changes in well-being at work in Finland. These are trends employers in Finland should notice.

Takeaway # 1: Younger workers doing worse than older ones

According to the survey results, those under 36 years of age are doing worse than older employees in each indicator measured. 

Younger respondents had worse results in work engagement and job satisfaction than older workers. Their work ability, which normally is lower for older workers, now dipped below the level of older workers. 

Younger workers also reported more symptoms of burnout than older workers. These included chronic fatigue, cynicism, cognitive problems, and even problems with emotion regulation. 

Employees who are under 36 years of age also reported decreases in the support they receive from their managers. This is also true for the trust they feel towards their managers. Older workers do not report similar decreases. 

What is particularly alarming for employers, younger workers also feel less connected with their workplaces. They also report a higher willingness to change employers than older workers. 

This study thus indicates that employers should pay more attention to the well-being of their young workers. Employers are in danger of seeing them walk out the door. The study also delivers other lessons for Finnish employers. We’ll look at them next.

Takeaway #2: Hybrid work best for well-being

Ever since the remote working recommendation ended this spring people have discussed what is the best way to work today. Some employers have recommended a return to the office, some have allowed remote work to continue, and some have opted for a hybrid approach. This study now gives some insight into which one of these is the best from the viewpoint of well-being.

Their results show that employees doing hybrid work have the best scores in several indicators measuring well-being at work. These include work engagement, job satisfaction, and work ability. They also report the lowest scores for boredom at work and overall burnout symptoms.

Those working remotely full-time report burnout symptoms more than they did the year before. They especially report increasing cognitive problems and cynicism. Also, their work engagement has decreased during the last year. The researchers, therefore, recommend paying extra attention to employees working remotely full-time. 

A third outcome to pay attention to in the results of this study has to do with managers and their well-being

Takeaway #3: The well-being of managers has taken a hit

Compared with the situation a year before, managers are now reporting lower scores for work engagement, job satisfaction, and work ability. At the same time, they report higher instances of burnout symptoms. They also now report a higher willingness to change jobs than they did a year ago. 

Managers now report being less likely to seek support from their superiors than they did a year ago. 

Compared with employees, managers report getting less support from their managers. They also report trusting their own superiors less than employees do. Managers also feel less often treated with fairness than employees do. In contrast, their report feeling more autonomous than employees do. 

The researchers point out that normally those in managerial positions report higher scores for indicators measuring well-being than employees. These results clearly show that the pandemic has taken a toll on managers. Employers should thus pay attention to their well-being. 

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