September 13, 2018

Finland gives the space to work

James O'Sullivan

Managing editor of Good News from Finland

The population of Melbourne, Australia, recently crossed the five-million mark. Putting this into perspective, now there are only 500 000 fewer people living in my birthplace than the entire population of Finland, my adopted home for over 10 years.

Yet Finland’s land mass is almost 35 times that of Melbourne!

Unsurprisingly, with so few residents scattered across the landscape, a sense of space permeates everything in Finnish culture. How can it not, given the vast untouched stretches of forests and lakes? A spatial sensitivity also informs the attitudes of those living here. Whilst Finns are stereotypically seen as quiet and shy, much of this is actually a polite unwillingness to breach one another’s personal space.

The working environment is no different. To be employed in Finland is to be given the freedom and space to do your job. The general understanding is that if you have been chosen for a position, then you are certainly capable of taking care of the business at hand. No one taps you on the shoulder every five minutes asking for a status update; you just get on with it.

Coming from a culture where asking the boss for the green light is the norm, the initial stages of a career in Finland can feel like being cast adrift. Though, once one realises that their initiative and knowhow is valued and trusted, this swiftly turns to empowerment. One quickly comes to appreciate why Kimi Räikkönen is known for his attitude of ‘leave me alone, I know what I’m doing’. This is the everyday Finnish perspective towards getting things done.

To be employed in Finland is to be given the freedom and space to do your job.

But, working in Finland is not about sitting back and relying on a previously acquired skillset. Hardly. It’s an ongoing learning process, unsurprising given the nation’s reputation for education excellence. Ongoing training and sharing of best practices is encouraged, and as a result the working environment often feels like an efficient, well-oiled machine.

This efficacy is important, given that the working week in Finland is capped at 37.5 hours. One must still have time in the day left over for family, friends and hobbies, you see. Finns understand the importance of doing stuff other than work and how this freshening up of mind and body is integral to creating a productive workplace. Thus, a healthy work-life balance is emphasised as the norm.

In fact, so rigid are the barriers between the office and home that sometimes it feels as if no one cares about what’s going on in your life outside of the office.

Then again, it’s just Finns being polite and unintrusive, respecting your space.

Want to hear more about what people born abroad think about working in Finland? You’re in luck, as next week we are starting a new series: “My career – from start to Finnish”.

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