Finnish work culture
Please note that there are as many work cultures as there are work places in Finland, and this is not the absolute guide for all of them. The purpose of this list is to give you some advice on what to expect and to look for when working with Finns.
In a work environment, shaking hands is the most common way of greeting people. Typically you only shake hands when you meet for the first time, after that people usually greet only verbally.
The power distance
Finland is a country of low power distance. Most people are on first-name basis with their bosses, if not from the first day forward then at least after a while of working together. ”Sir” or ”Madam” are not used in person or in emails – maintaining a respectful tone is enough. You’ll get the idea of the level of formality required by observing your colleagues in the beginning of the employment.
Straight to the point
Even though Finns are often characterised as quiet, they are still not afraid to speak out when it’s required. In a work environment the way Finns express themselves can even seem blunt. Remember that it is not at all personal, and it’s not intended to be. Saying things the way they are or giving frank comments is just a way of saving time. So, if in a meeting someone goes straight to making improvement suggestions on your work without thanking or complimenting it first, or an email starts with ”Hi, could you check this and that…” without any pleasantries, don’t be offended. Finnish culture is not big on verbal politeness. And you’ll probably notice, that the longer you have known your colleagues, the less chitchat they are willing to engage in before getting to the point.
On the other hand, this plays nicely for you as well; whenever you’re puzzled about something, or wondering how and why something is done, or have any questions about your work in general, you’re allowed to ask. Asking also shows your motivation to learn.
Honesty and reliability are highly valued in a work environment. Also, employees are expected to be independent in the sense of getting the job done without the boss looking over their shoulder all the time. Therefore, if you agree to do something, you are actually expected to do it. If someone asks you to complete a task you don’t have time for, it’s better to say no than agree to it and then end up not doing it. If you are approached in a hectic moment with a million things spinning in your head, it’s okay to ask if you can check your calendar and get back to the person later. Your value as an employee is not diminished if you don’t automatically take on all the tasks available – you’ll be much better off if people know they can rely on you to do what you’ve promised. Likewise, if you have (or think you have) made a mistake, being open about it and asking for help in fixing it is better than hiding it.
Finnish time orientation is quite strict and being late is not appreciated. If a meeting is scheduled to start at 8.00, you’re expected to show up at 8.00. Even though people are late sometimes, arriving clearly after the agreed time is inconsiderate, since you’re wasting the time of those who did actually come on time. Same applies to deadlines; if you say you’ll get something done by Friday, people expect it to be done by Friday. If, however, you are running late, it’s polite to let the others know or ask for more time, if necessary.
As you might already know, Finns are the biggest consumers of coffee in the world. A lot of the consumption takes place at work, as coffee breaks are held once or twice a day. Having some coffee and maybe even some pulla is the perfect break from a busy day. It’s also the time to socialize with your colleagues.
Work and private life separation
In the Finnish culture, work and private lives are kept rather separate. When you are getting to know your colleagues, it’s better to stick to more neutral topics at first (e.g. hobbies, TV, music) than asking very personal questions (relationship, children, health).
Religion and politics
Even though a majority of Finns belongs to the Christian church, the overall atmosphere is not very religious. Due to the work/private life separation, discussing religion or politics is not common in many workplaces.
Finns tolerate silence well. If you don’t have anything to say, it’s not necessary to speak. Also, the pace of the conversation is rather slow and silences in between are common. Don’t be alarmed if in a meeting the room falls quiet from time to time – there’s no need to rush in and fill the silence.