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/).