Adapting to Finnish work culture

Moving to a new country is never easy, there are hundreds of new things to learn and customs to adapt to. But for many, adjusting to a new working life can be the biggest shock of all. Below are a few Finnish norms that required an adjustment from my perspective as a Canadian.

Coffee and Pulla

It is said that Finnish work culture is fuelled by strong coffee. Did you know that Finns consume more java per capita than any other people? (Over 12 kg per year! vs 6,5 in Canada, 5,5 in Germany, and 4,2 in the US). So don’t be surprised when you are offered some of that black gold at every meeting. Pulla (a sweet Finnish pastry) is also a staple of most Finnish offices. If you are hosting a work meeting, it’s always a good idea to have some coffee and pulla (or cookies) on hand to offer. These small gestures can go a long way! 
 

Lunch Breaks

In some parts of the world, it is normal to work through lunch, or eat at your desk. In Finland, this can be considered an unhealthy practice. Take a break, leave your desk, and eat with your colleagues instead.
 

Emails

The best way to get a response from a Finn is by talking to him or her, face-to-face. If that is not possible, a phone call is preferred to email. Some places in the world rely heavily on emails – which are always responded to. Finland is not one of them. It is not uncommon for emails to be overlooked here, or simply forgotten. So if you need an answer, pick up the phone.
 

Be Direct and Honest

In some cultures a point may be communicated through slight changes in one’s actions or tone. In these places one always must consider the hidden meaning and wonder “what did he or she mean by that?” In Finland, these social subtleties are not common. If you want to communicate something, be direct and honest. 
 

CVs / Resumes

It is normal for resumes in Finland to include a few items that are not typically seen in some other parts of the world. In fact, in some places (like Canada), asking for these items could actually be prohibited since not hiring someone based on it may be considered discrimination. Examples include:

  • Marital status
  • A recent photo (“head shot”)
  • Citizenship / residency status
  • Birthdate
  • Military service

Work Hours

In Finland it is common for employees to work the hours described in their employment contracts, and not many more. Although this may seem obvious, it is not the case in some countries, where employees are expected to put in many hours in addition to the “official” hours. That is not to say that no one works outside these normal working hours in Finland – but this is more of an exception than a rule here.
 

Small Talk

“How are the kids doing?” This may be a typical way to start a business meeting in some parts of the world where it is considered rude to “jump right in” to business. In these places is it customary to make “small talk” for a few minutes first. In Finland, this is not the case. It is more common to focus on the topic at hand and leave the chitchat for a coffee break.  
 
Keep in mind that the above observations are generalities, and of course don’t apply to every office or worker in Finland! So don’t be afraid to send an email, or eat at your desk every now and then!
 

11.03.2015
Aihealue: Työelämä
Avainsanat: työaika