Work-Life Balance in Finland

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In trying to attract international talent to Finland, those in the business face a hard sale. Finland is considered to be an expensive country to live in. Our salaries are not particularly high in global comparison. We also have a climate that is not the most attractive. However, what is usually said to work for our advantage is the great work-life balance in Finland.

In this blog post, I will take a hard look at this balance. 

What is Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance refers to the degree to which work matters spill over to our personal lives. It can also mean the degree to which our personal matters spill over to our work lives. 

We are different in the way we approach this balance. According to Salla Toppinen-Tanner from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, there are two types of people.

Some of us segment our lives so that we keep our work and personal lives separate. We don’t bring work home. And we don’t bring our personal lives to work. 

Those who integrate their work and personal lives don’t mind checking their work emails while watching tv in the evening. On the other hand, they also might take their kid to see the dentist in the middle of the day without batting an eye. 

Naturally, we often mix these two approaches depending on our possibilities, needs, and our current circumstances both at work and in our personal lives. 

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Employment Regulations and Practices that Promote Work-Life Balance in Finland

Finnish employment relationships are quite strictly regulated when it comes to, for example, working hours. These regulations in principle prevent work from filling our lives.

For example, the normal number of weekly working hours in Finland is 40. In many fields, the collective agreement has lowered that weekly amount to 37.5 hours. Collective agreements often also limit the number of weekly workdays to five instead of the legal 6.

We also have regulations that limit the maximum number of overtime hours employees can do.

Depending on the field, employees can also have access to flexitime or working time accounts. These enable the occasional trips to the dentist.

We also have a good number of paid vacation days. There’s even a rule that forces us to take at least 14 vacation days in a row. 

In addition, Finland has additional practices that promote work-life balance. These include 

  • study leave
  • family leaves
  • possibility to save up accrued holidays
  • part-time pension
  • job alternation leave

And, especially during Covid, relatively high access to remote work possibilities.

So, the conditions for a great work-life balance exist in Finland. Let’s see what the reality actually is like.

Work-Life Balance in Finland in European comparison

The European Union Labor Force Survey from 2019 tells us that about 70 % of employees in Finland feel that they can at least to some extent decide when their workday starts and ends. As Pertti Taskinen from Statistics Finland explains, this is significantly more than in Europe on average. In Europe, about 40 % of employees feel this way.

About 80 % of employees in Finland also say that it is relatively easy to take a couple of hours off during the day to attend to personal matters. The European average is under 70 %. 

So things are looking great for Finland thus far. We have structures that facilitate a great work-life balance. The majority of employees also feel that they have at least some leeway in arranging their working hours around other aspects of their lives. 

The flip side of this flexibility is, however, that it goes the other way as well. Employees in Finland are expected to accommodate requests relating to working hours more than European employees on average. 

About 31 % of employees in Finland say that they have to be flexible with their working hours at the request of clients or managers on a weekly basis. 29 % of employees in Finland say that they have to do this on a monthly basis. The European average for both is about 20 %. 

But We Have Our Vacations…

Finnish employees are also contacted in work matters outside of work hours more often than European employees on average. 

Hanna Sutela from Statistics Finland explains that 23 % of employees in Finland said they had been contacted after work hours several times about matters requiring immediate action. We topped the European chart on that one. 

Finnish employees also are contacted after work about matters that do not require action from them. 13 % said this happens many times. An additional third said it had happened once or twice.  

We also do it to ourselves. In the same article, Hanna Sutela explains that nearly half of Finnish employees at least glance at their emails during their holidays. 15 % of employees check their work emails daily or almost daily during their vacations. 20 % check their emails once a week. 

We do this although only 6 % of us said we were expected to do it. 

Additional Observations about Work-Life Balance in Finland

In another blog, I explained the five job quality indices Jere Immonen and Hanna Sutela from Statistic Finland used to develop job profiles that describe Finnish working conditions. 

Their analysis shows that in the Finnish labor market there is clear polarization in our abilities to manage work-life balance. 

Those who are in what Immonen and Sutela termed “good jobs” are satisfied with their jobs and their work-life balance. Those in decent manual jobs also report high job and work-life balance satisfaction. 

They, however, manage this balance very differently. Good jobs grant employees plenty of flexibility to arrange their work hours. But the boundaries between work and personal life tend to blur a bit. In decent manual jobs, there’s very little flexibility in terms of hours. But the line between work and personal life is very clear. 

Here we have integration and segmentation in action. Both producing satisfaction with work-life balance.

Time Pressure: Our Enemy

What really messes with work-life balance, however, is time pressure

Employees who never or hardly ever experienced time pressures at work were often (40 %) very satisfied with their work-life balance. Those who experienced time pressure somewhat often were not as often (25 %) satisfied with their work-life balance. Those bothered by time pressure often or quite often were least likely (15 %) to report satisfaction with their work-life balance. 

Flexibility to arrange one’s working hours doesn’t help if there’s a lot of time pressure. People with a lot of flexibility but also plenty of time pressure were less often (25 %) satisfied with their work-life balance than those with very little flexibility and very little time pressure (33 %).

As Sutela concludes, increasing flexibility with working hours is not enough to increase employee’s satisfaction with their work-life balance if we don’t manage the time pressure they experience. 

So, while we have created great conditions for excellent work-life balance in Finland we often ruin it by having to do too much work in too little time. 

This is your ultimate guide to rules governing Finnish employment relationships. Get it from our online store!

The mission of Finnwards is to help internationals thrive in their life abroad. We provide coaching, consulting, and training services that help them do just that. Check out our Services for Businesses and Organizations or our Expat Inspiration Catalog for more information! While we serve internationals and their employers all over the world, our specialty is Finland. With our help, internationals can build a uniquely Finnish life for themselves and their family. In addition to the coaching, consulting and training services, we also offer a wide selection of self-guided online courses about Finland. Contact us and let us help you or your employees succeed in their professional and private lives abroad and in Finland.

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