I was fortunate enough to land myself a job about six months after I moved to Finland. I had worked for AREVA when I lived in the States and a co-worker friend of mine had a colleague who was working over here. I got in touch with him and he sent my CV to the hiring manager. I had an interview and was offered the position a few days later. It really helps to know people, right? Just like my experience in the States. But that’s one of the few things that the work cultures of Finland and the United States have in common. They really are quite different from one another.
First, people in Finland really value their privacy and personal space and respect that of others. I believe this helps people stay more focused on their work throughout the day. Social interactions are more reserved for coffee breaks, which are not scheduled, but there is kind of an unwritten rule that breaks are about every two hours for ten to fifteen minutes. At my workplaces in the States, social interactions were much more prevalent throughout the office and day. It could be argued that this kept morale high, but perhaps decreased productivity. I guess at the end of the day, as long as the work was getting done, managers didn’t feel a need to get involved.
When I first began my job in Finland, my stress-level was almost non-existent. One of the biggest factors there is that I would come to site, do my work, and then go home and not worry about work again until the next day. In my previous job, I was thinking about work a lot even when I wasn’t there. To be fair, I’m not doing the same job as I was in the States and the responsibilities differ, but it does seem that it is typical for a worker in Finland to keep work at work and not let such things carry over into one’s personal time and life.
Probably the biggest difference is how sick leave is distributed. I used to get six sick days for the year at my previous job. Once I used up those six days, I either had to start using vacation days or take unpaid leave. It makes it much more likely that someone would come to work while battling a cold or something because they don’t want to use a sick day. In Finland, I go to a nurse or a doctor and they determine how much sick leave I need. It’s great to know that employers really want their employees in great health at work. My boss has said to me numerous times that my health and that of my family are the most important, and work comes after. It is very common in American workplaces for people to feel like they need to be at work no matter what for fear of losing a job or an opportunity at that job, which often causes people to put their own well-being aside. Depending on the employer and workplace, things vary, but I do think that the average American worker goes through this and it is ingrained in the work culture.
On the other hand, taking vacations is more flexible in the States, where one can take their vacations at their own convenience instead of during certain windows of time. This has forced me to take some of my holidays as unpaid, so that I could say, spend a month with my family in Maryland over Christmas. However, the difference is that I have been able to make it work. If I took off a month of unpaid leave at my job in the States, I don’t know if that would have ever been approved.
In the end, I prefer the work culture of Finland, where I am not only valued for my skills on the job, but for my humanity and overall well-being. The past year has been a struggle for everyone and I’m grateful for the support from my employer. I honestly don’t know if I could have survived this same situation at my previous job.
Matt Bowen is an American living in Pori, Finland with his wife, Sanni, their son, Edvin, and their dog, Pipo. You can follow their journey on Matthew’s Facebook blog, My Life in Finland (www.facebook.com/MattinFinland/).