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Finland wants to have Europe's best working life by 2020

Finland wants to have Europe's best working life by 2020

| Text: Bengt Östling, photo: Cata Portin

Finland’s strengths have not been used to create a competitive advantage. Now Finnish working life is to become the best in Europe. Businesses compete to innovate, create trust, well-being and competencies. The economic crisis was a temporary setback, but also a fresh start for the Working Life 2020 programme ('Arbetsliv2020’).

It has been part of Finnish modesty to tone down your own success and resources. But there will now be an end to that, if Margita Klemetti gets her way. She is the coordinator for the working life strategy which was prepared by the Finnish government back in 2011, but which has survived power transfers and a deep economic crisis.

She points out that Finland has a level of honesty, timekeeping and initiative not found in all countries.

“We are trying to highlight what is positive, we might not be quite as bad as we might have appeared in recent years. It is time to highlight the positive sides as Finland prepares to celebrate its centenary.”

Close race for Nordic leadership

All of the Scandinavian countries are top three or four in labour market rankings. It depends on what you measure and how. Denmark has often taken first place, says Margita Klemetti.

The 2011 government programme set out a labour market strategy for Finland. There was a desire to highlight the quality of the labour market, but also the productivity in individual workplaces and thus Finland’s international competitiveness.

A few summers back saw the launch of the ‘Say yes!’ campaign, which aimed to make Finns enthusiastic about leading by example in their workplaces and take on the challenges linked to changes to the labour market. To introduce change in the working community you need to empower staff and protect your resources.

It could have been a Swedish project

Project leader Margita Klemetti is very positive and open when explaining the background to the programme to the Nordic Labour Journal. She is a Finnish civil servant, but you could be excused for believing that this had been created in Sweden. After all, that is where talk about participation, group work and consensus comes from. And the need to be the best.

To succeed you have to say yes to innovation. When we innovate together, we end up with more ideas and a stronger culture for doing things together. Openness and reciprocal action create fertile ground for experimentation and transformation. Structures which represent obstacles to creativity and renewal must be removed, was the message two years ago.

Economic crisis made the programme more relevant

It is also unusual for Finland to put itself forward to such an extent. The programme's aim is for Finland to have the best labour market in Europe by 2020. This will mean adapting to a new reality, and developing new forms of leadership, innovation and digitalisation. 

The starting point was the 2011 change of government, explains Margita Klemetti. Since then the Katainen government has been replaced by the Sipilä government, and a lot of other things have happened too. The programme has become even more relevant, since the entire economy and the outside world have changed. The programme's focus has been updated as a result of the economic crisis, which is still being felt in Finland.

Workplaces across the country on board

"This is not a project for central government. Many trades and workplaces are on board, and not just one sector comprising smaller companies, or representing just one trade. All points of view are important."

This is about both large and small projects. The municipal sector is preparing for the change which comes through the health, social services and regional government reform. The Lapland ski resort industry and its staff is developing a rewards programme within the project’s framework. The finance sector has come far in the implementation of their reform proposals, says Margita Klemetti.

Five people are working on the project at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment towards 2019, with an annual budget of one million euro.

The idea is to develop the qualitative sides; competencies and leadership, cooperation and communication, explains Margita Klemetti.

“So you need a development which springs from the needs of the individual workplaces. We have to create an interest for development in parallel with explaining which services and information is available.”

Not everything needs to be a giant leap

New networks have been created and ways to reach the workplaces have been explored, especially through the labour market organisations. Communication and the exchange of services has been key. There is also broad regional cooperation. 

“We have a lot of good examples of workplaces which are advancing and doing great things through various development programmes,” says Margita Klemetti.

This does not have to happen through giant leaps. It is possible to focus on smaller areas or topics too. The idea is to inspire by holding up examples from other workplaces, including on the programme's website.

“Important to have visible values”

Bonnier Books Finland, comprising the large Finnish publishers Tammi and WSOY, is one of the companies taking part in the Working Life2020 programme. The company is Finland’s largest book publisher. In 2013 dozens of jobs were cut from its publishing arm.

Just over one year ago a working group was established to look at the company’s values. Publishing manager Kati Lampela is part of the group. She points to a long process running back to February 2016. The most important thing seems to be the regular conversation and the link between owners and staff, which is now being strengthened through a tailored programme.

Staff can now choose value agents, who will guarantee that the value debate is carried through in theory and practice, a few steps at a time.

Few culture clashes

The company culture has also been defined, where passion and love of literature is combined with market leadership and profitability. Values include courage, ambition and community.

Swedish Bonnier also owns other literature and media companies in Finland. Bonnier owns the commercial TV company MTV3, and recently acquired the Academic Bookstore from the Stockmann group. They are not involved in this project.

Margit Klemetti, Kati Lampela

Margita Klemetti, left, and Kati Lampela, publishing manager at one of  Bonnier Books Finland's publishers

And when it comes to Swedish companies in Finland you must, of course, ask about culture clashes. Clearly there have not been many in this case, despite what was perhaps a difficult start. The only cultural difference which Kati Lampela can think of is empathy. It is a basic presence in Sweden, but only just emerging in Finnish company culture and leadership.

Fun to have a job

Dozens of employers have done the same as Bonnier, with good results according to Margita Klemetti. 

“We do more than measuring whether it is fun to be at work, we also look at what is being achieved there.”

But is it also fun to have a job rather than being unemployed. One of the important tools for measuring this is the so-called occupation barometre.

According to the latest occupation barometre from late March 2017, surplus labour levels are falling in Finland. More and more sectors experience a labour shortage, especially the health and social care sector and to an increasing degree also the construction industry. Long-term unemployment also appears to be falling.

Finland becoming a force of inspiration

There are several ways of measuring the success of Working Life2020. The most important thing will be to see a rise in Finnish employment levels, reckons Margita Klemetti.

“Other issues outside of our project will also have an effect on that. This can be measured in many ways, in the Nordic region, in the EU and internationally. But it is also important that each and every employee looks after his or her own wellbeing at work.”

The latest report from the Working Life2020 programme looks at the labour market as a competitive force. Finland’s economic growth must be supported in the long run, in order to succeed with international cooperation, as an example and inspiration to others. 

There is a desire to reach foreign investors, companies, new labour and consumers with the message of the high class Finnish labour market.

Getting worse before getting better?

The opposition criticises the government for making the labour market and working life worse, with the competitiveness agreement which has brought wage freezes and longer annual working hours. 

Margita Klemetti underlines the broad agreement surrounding Working Life2020. It was introduced by the Katainen government, with the Social Democrat Ihalainen as Minister of Employment. He has now been replaced by Jari Lindström from the Finns Party, with a different government basis. 

“In the short term one single issue can hamper the execution of the project,” admits Margita Klemetti.

Yet the things that are being introduced through legislation, the workplaces must include into their everyday work, and projects provide tools and knowledge for how to do it.

“There are bound to be things in the government’s decisions right now which go against qualitative issues in our programme. But on the other side we must remember to ask ourselves: Do we have a choice? The important thing is that we have jobs and a labour market in the end. 

“We are in a situation where the whole of working life is undergoing change, with digitalisation and more, so we cannot stay still either. What might look like it is complicating our aims in the short run, will be good in the end.”

Filed under:
Peculiarities of Finnish workplace culture
  • The first thing people arriving in Finland learn is that things like honesty, timekeeping and initiative are valued in Finnish working life. What has been agreed will also be put into action, without too much debate.
  • People are said to be treated equally. It is very usual to be on first name terms with the boss, no matter your position. 
  • The authoritarian hierarchy was for a long time a feature of Finnish working life. But ‘management by perkele' (a Finnish swearword for ‘devil’) is no longer common. People develop and carry out their work tasks independently, without the need for detailed management from up high. 
  • The hushed workplace atmosphere is now considered a myth. But it is still common in meetings to go straight to the order of business after the initial greetings.





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