What it’s like to work in Finland: Working Life Barometer 2019

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In this blog, we’ll explore what it is like to work in Finland. We base this exploration on the 2019 Working Life Barometer that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment published this week. 

The Barometer is based on structured interviews of 1 555 employees in Finland. Statistics Finland conducted the interviews in August and September of 2019. Thus the Barometer tells us about the Finnish working life prior to the Corona pandemic of 2020. They conducted the survey in such a way that it makes it possible to use this data to describe the Finnish working life in general. 

Such surveys have been conducted annually in Finland since 1992. This allows us to see how the Finnish working life has developed over the years. This Barometer is different from the larger Statistic Finland study that takes a look at the quality of the Finnish working life. We’ve used that one in some of our earlier blogs (eg. here). Statistics Finland conducts this larger study approximately every five years whereas the Barometer is done every year. 

What it’s like to work in Finland: positive trends

The results of the 2019 barometer survey give a somewhat contradictory image of the Finnish working life. 

On the one hand, the results show a general improvement in the quality of Finnish working life over the years. Employees say that they have increasing possibilities to influence their work in different ways. They also reported seeing less discrimination and bullying at work than previously. 

Also, the management skills of managers in Finland have improved over the years. For example, 27 % of employees in 2019 strongly agreed that their managers react to their development ideas encouragingly. In 2003, only 18 % felt that way. Similarly, in 2019 74 % of employees agreed strongly or at least somewhat that their managers encourage them to try out new ideas. In 2013, the corresponding percentage was 64. 

Another way in which the quality of Finnish working life has is improved is that more and more employees feel that their job is such that they can constantly learn new things. In 2003, 23 % of employees strongly agreed with this statement. In 2019, 37 % strongly agreed. 

Over the years the proportion of employees feeling that they can participate in the development of their workplace has increased notably. in 2006, 30 % of employees felt that their possibilities to participate in improvement efforts were good. In 2019, 55 % felt that way. 

64 % of employees felt energized and enthusiastic about their jobs always or often. Over half of the employees also felt totally immersed in their jobs always or often. 

So, in a number of areas work quality in Finland has improved. 

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What it’s like to work in Finland: cause to worry

On the other hand, in some respects, Finnish workplaces are developing in the wrong direction. For example, mental stress is increasing. Also, symptoms of burnout and stress are rather common. 

In 2019, 63 % of employees felt that their job was mentally taxing. The proportion has steadily increased since 2016. Also, women (67 %) tend to feel this way more often than men (57 %). More often employees felt this way in the public sector (73 %) than in private industry (49 %) or private service (62 %) sector. 

The barometer enquired after burnout symptoms with four different questions. They asked whether employees had experienced chronic fatigue, cynism towards their job, cognitive difficulties, or problems regulating their emotions. 

Around 10 % of employees had felt chronic fatigue, cynicism, or difficulties concentrating. For all of these, the percentages are slightly higher for women than men. About 2 % of men and women had experienced problems regulating their emotions. 

Although the sense of haste employees feel has not increased in the last few years, over 60 % of employees feel that they have to work with very tight deadlines or at rapid speed daily or weekly. The sense of haste is particularly common in the municipal sector where 76 % of employees work under such time pressure daily or weekly. 

The larger Statistics Finland study concludes that haste characterizes particularly the working lives of women and jobs in the municipal sector. Haste makes it more difficult to explore new ideas or contribute to the development of the workplace. In this larger study, 80 % of both women and men say that they can apply new ideas in their jobs but about 50 % of women say that they don’t have the time for that. Only 39 % of men say the same.  

What it’s like to work in Finland in the future

The Working Life Barometer always also asks how employees see Finnish working life developing in the future. Overall, based on the four aspects measured employees in Finland are cautiously optimistic about the future of work. 

The only exception was the way they saw the meaningfulness of work developing. While the majority of employees have experienced flow in their own jobs, they see future jobs developing in a less favorable direction. This view, however, depends, for example, on their position in the job market. Those in higher positions have a more favorable impression of the future of work than those in lower positions. And those in the municipal sector see the future as bleaker than those in other sectors. 

The other measures reveal more optimistic expectations about the future of work. Employees, for example, see that in the future internal communication at their workplace will improve at least somewhat. They also think they will continue to be able to improve their skills at work. Although in this respect they were a bit more pessimistic in 2019 than in previous years. 

They also some faith in their possibilities to influence their own position and tasks also in the future. The majority of employees (62 %), however, feel that things will pretty much stay the same in this respect. 

Final words 

Overall, the 2019 Working Life Barometer reveals several aspects of the Finnish working life that have developed in a good direction over the years. It also further emphasizes the increased mental stress modern work puts employees under. 

More than that, however, it shows again how the various developmental trends in the nature of work in Finland influence men and women differently. We’ve discussed the gender segregation of the Finnish labor market before in our blog. That blog was based on the study by Jere Immonen and Hanna Sutela. They concluded that men are more often employed in “good jobs” than women. Women, for example, were more often employed in jobs characterized by haste or in jobs that were taxing or heavy manual labor.

The 2019 Working Life Barometer also highlighted similar issues.  Women, for example, had either witnessed or experienced violence more often than men. More often than men, women also felt that there was too much work in relation to the number of employees at their workplace. Many of these and others were problems particularly in the municipal sector where the majority of employees are women. These trends should worry municipal decision-makers. We’ll see if the quality of work in municipal jobs will become an issue in our municipal elections this spring. 

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