Valéria Pinto, Media Coordinator, Helsinki
Having lived in Finland for a few years now, and working in a non-profit company for one year, I would like to believe I have grasped some of the Finnish mindset as a country and some of its working philosophy.
I come from a latino context and I can say that we have substantial differences, which I will try to present here. I would like to highlight, though, that I will be addressing such differences merely as differences, once I do not consider that diverse ways of seeing or doing things are better or worse. Each culture has its context and what may apply in one may not apply in another. This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if we humans are an infinite source of possibilities, why wouldn’t working practices in diverse cultures be as well?
Despite having a higher education (bachelor’s degree in law), years of experience in different industries and countries, and being fluent in four languages, it took me over a year to find a (part-time) job in Helsinki. My Finnish language skills are still limited to small talk, regardless of having studied it for a year at a language and integration course five days a week, 6-7 hours a day – and, I must say, having had good grades. It happens that the Finnish language requires more to get to the needed professional proficiency, and most job ads require working fluency in Finnish, even in companies where English is the official working language – something that intrigues me profoundly. There is some discussion regarding the purpose of this requirement, but I will not get into that matter.
After my one year of working in a non-profit, multi-cultural Finnish company where English is the working language, I have learned that the Finnish working culture is, above all, based on trust, ownership and independence. Hierarchy is very horizontal, being sometimes difficult for me to process it coming from a latino context, where job positions are very clear and defined. Things like putting the dishes away in the cupboard or tiding around may be a task performed by the Director of my company here in Finland. This is something that would seem practically impossible in my country if you are, let’s say, an office worker. This horizontality is one of the things that I admire in the Finnish working culture, sustaining the social democratic country with a constant pursuit of equality of its citizens.
Decisions are very often made as a consensus, and if not, everyone has the freedom to express their opinions, which I find positive in creating new or improved solutions in general. No wonder why Finland is renowned for its innovation ethos. Also, I find my work environment quite informal, which I cannot state as a general practice once I haven’t had a corporate experience in Finland yet. I believe it might be a bit different then.
The challenges I have personally faced are regarding the short lunch breaks (30 minutes only) and the lack of supervision or guidance from my managers. It is even kind of funny how managers trust the employees to be 100% capable of doing anything – regardless the level of familiarity they might or might not have with the new issue in front of them. I suppose this is related to the long and thorough recruiting process they run, which might be designed specially to select the best professionals to each position and the independence factor intrinsic for the Finnish culture. Another difficulty I have is that if Finn colleagues say something in the hall, they take it as a done deal – like decisions made in a formal meeting. This is unimaginable in my culture. The same happens when they say many things one after the other for quite some time and expect people (I mean, me) to remember everything they have said. I am sorry, I need notes or emails to record what has been said or decided. However, little by little I have been developing strategies to adjust to the new ways of doing things: Always carrying a small notebook with me for ad hoc notes is one of them. 😊
In summary, it takes time to acknowledge and absorb another culture’s ways of doing things. Time and effort is the minimum the newcomer should offer the culture they are being welcomed to. Finns are generally interested in and respectful to other cultures and they will offer you help in times of need, if you ask for it. At least this has been my experience in my couple of years in the Land of the Thousand Lakes. I hope everyone’s story is as good as mine.
And remember: kaikki on pikkuhiljaa Suomessa!
The author, Valéria Pinto, has been a service provider participant in one of the My Way 2 networking/wellbeing events.