Social relationships at Finnish workplaces during the pandemic

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In some of our previous blogs, we’ve looked at the effects the Corona pandemic has had on the Finnish labor market. In this one, we’ll look more closely at the effects it has had on social relationships at Finnish workplaces. 

This blog is based on a research publication that came out just before Christmas last year from Statistics Finland. 

Hanna Sutela and Anna Pärnänen from Statistics Finland are participating in a government research project that looks at the effects of the pandemic on gender equality in Finland. Their examination of the labor market is a subproject of this larger project. We mentioned this research briefly when it first launched

The research report in question discusses the effects of the pandemic on several different aspects of the labor market. However, in this blog, we will only focus on the topic of social relationships at Finnish workplaces. We’ll look at some of the other topics in some of our later blogs. 

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Support from supervisors and coworkers

Sutela and Pärnänen take the support employees feel they get both from their supervisors and coworkers as one measure of social relationships at Finnish workplaces. 

They conclude that overall a larger number of employees feel supported by their managers now than before the pandemic. 

In 2018, 16 % felt that they always receive support when work gets difficult. In 2021, their share increased to 19 %. 

However, there were differences in this feeling based on gender and whether employees were engaged in remote work or continued working at the workplace. 

Prior to the pandemic, 13 % of men engaged in remote work felt supported by their supervisors in difficult work situations. In 2021, their share had increased to 21 %. 

In contrast, the share of women doing remote work who felt the same had decreased a bit from 22 % to 21 %. 

A slightly larger share of both men and women who continued working at the workplace now felt that they always received support from their managers in tough work situations. The share of men who felt that way was now 17 % (16 % in 2018). For women, it was 18 % (16 % in 2018).

Similarly, a larger share of employees always felt supported by their coworkers in difficult work situations now than before (26 % vs. 24 %).  

Particularly the share of men who felt they always received such support increased. This was irrespective of whether they were working remotely or not. In 2018, 19 % felt this way. In 2021, their share was 24 %. 

For women working at the workplace, the situation had actually worsened a bit. In 2018, 28 % then always felt they received support from their colleagues. In 2021, 26 % of them did. 

Conflicts at work

Remote work has allowed employees, especially men, to separate themselves somewhat from conflicts at work. 

In 2018, 8 % of men felt that there were a lot or quite a lot of conflicts between employees. In 2021, their share had dropped to 6 %. For men doing remote work, the share dropped from 6 % to 3 %. 

An increasing number of women continuing to work at the workplace, however, felt that there were a lot or quite a lot of conflicts between employees. In 2018, 8 % of such women employees felt that way. In 2021, 13 % did. 

Sutela and Pärnänen do not give an explanation for this. I wonder, however, if this has to do with the industries men and women work in. We know that, for example, the healthcare field is women-dominated. We also know that employees in this industry have been at the forefront of battling the pandemic. Healthcare employees have been under a lot of pressure. Such pressures related to increased workload and limited resources are bound to increase tensions at work.

The situation is slightly different when discussing conflicts between employees and supervisors. For both women and men, the situation has improved for those engaged in remote work and deteriorated for those working at the workplace. 

3 % of men engaged in remote work feel that there are a lot or quite a lot of conflicts between employees and supervisors. This is a drop from 8 % in 2018.

In terms of women, 15 % of women working remotely in 2018 felt that there were a lot or quite a lot of conflicts between employees and supervisors. In 2021, only 8 % felt that way.

However, an increasing share of both women and men working at the workplace during the pandemic said that there are a lot of conflicts between supervisors and employees. For men, the increase was from 10 % in 2018 to 11 % in 2021. For women, it was from 12 % to 14 %. Perhaps this is understandable considering the health risks working together with others presented especially before the wide availability of vaccinations. 

Interviews provide insight into social relationships at Finnish workplaces during the pandemic

Interviews associated with the survey provide some additional insights into social relationships at Finnish workplaces during the pandemic particularly when it comes to remote work. 

Sutela and Pärnänen, for example, detail with interview excerpts how some report increasing tensions between those working remotely and those who don’t have that option. 

Interviewees also highlight problems with communication, again, particularly in remote work. They mention a lack of sufficient communication and increased misunderstandings. 

According to a quoted interviewee, the lack of serendipitous encounters in remote work may result in slight hiccups developing into larger problems. 

Interviewees also mention that it’s difficult to maintain team spirit in remote work. Virtual coffee breaks are just not very enticing for people who’ve been in remote meetings all day anyway. 

Survey questions measuring the employees’ satisfaction with the amount of discussion at work reveal that problems with communication plague especially remote work.  

For example, a larger share of women working at the workplace is happy with the amount of discussion about problems and the organization of work now than before.

12 % of such women agreed completely that there is enough discussion about those things in 2018. 16 % did in 2021. In contrast, a smaller share of women engaged in remote work was satisfied with the amount of discussion now than before. in 2018, 14 % were completely satisfied with the amount of discussion. In 2021, 11 % were.

So, although social relationships at Finnish workplaces have not significantly deteriorated due to the huge changes the pandemic brought, there still remain things to do. This is especially true for communication, team spirit, and the sense of belonging. 

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2 thoughts on “Social relationships at Finnish workplaces during the pandemic

  1. Hi Minna,
    I appreciate your time n effort in writing blogs with substantial information which indeed helps to foreigners in Finland, to understand social, economical and living circumstances. I have one request/tip/idea for you, which might be a potential topic for a blog. I have been observing this several times and felt curious yet surprised about it!! It’s about job advertisements which employers post in Finland in English language yet they clearly mention Finnish language skills are needed. It may seems what’s there to write about this as it is obvious that in Finland a job needs a Finnish language. If this is true, then why the advertisements needs to be in English? If this is because the advertiser wants check English skills of Finnish aspirant (??) , I doubt that. If the job is for for English speakers then what’s the point of mentioning about FIN skills? Please note that, I am not against anything in this kind of job ads but just wondering what might be so specific reason. Please give a thought about and if you feel this something interesting to research n write for people, please do so. There may be lot of foreigners might be thinking same!! Who knows.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!

      While I appreciate your suggestion for a blog topic, I’m afraid I can’t write a blog about it. And when I say I can’t, I truly mean that I can’t. At least for now.

      This is because I truly don’t know the reason for this. It defies logic as you indicated. On the one hand, Finnish speakers by definition can read Finnish and thus do not need English-language job ads. On the other hand, if the job seeker’s Finnish skills are not adequate to read an ad in Finnish, they won’t benefit from an English-language ad if the job nevertheless requires fluent Finnish.

      Currently, I’m as much at a loss as you are as to why this takes place. Thus far I haven’t seen anyone attempt to explain this in any rigorous way. I’ve only seen speculative explanations of which I have also my own. Thus right now I’m unable to write a blog about this, at least not one that would truly explain anything and help my readers. Naturally, if I come across anything of the sort, I will write it.


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