New study: Foreign Employees Appreciate Finnish Work Culture – Yet Many Struggle at the Beginning of Their Career
Employees with a foreign background see many positive factors in Finnish work culture: low hierarchies, easily approachable supervisors and managers, work-life balance, and trust between employer and employee. Difficulties arise from residence permit procedures, lack of information about working life, and the language barrier.
Although Finnish work culture has its problems, many of the interviewees think that things are better in Finland than in their previous countries of residence:
This job is one that I would not have done under any circumstances [in my former country of residence]. There cleaners are looked down on, not respected at all, and not considered a part of the work community. But here in Finland, cleaners are respected and, for example, other employees greet them and behave in a friendly way towards them.
The data comes from recent research in which foreigners working in manual and service occupations were interviewed. The interviewees work in the service sector, social and health care, construction, and agriculture. The research material consists of 25 qualitative interviews conducted in five languages between December 2022 and April 2023. The material provides information on people’s experiences of Finland. The research was conducted by E2 Research as part of the project Building Finland´s Future – Inclusion and Collaboration in Work Life.
The early stage of a career is difficult for foreigners
The problems the interviewees had faced typically took place immediately after their entry into Finland. Some of them had had to pay so-called key money to an ‘agent’ to get their first job:
It was hard to find a job. I also worked in Helsinki for a couple of months and in another place and then found a job only after paying a fee to a man who takes care of things like that. – – Okay, I don’t remember, I paid about a thousand euros to get this job.
Some of the interviewees said there had been ambiguities in their terms of employment and not knowing the language had made it difficult for them to find a job that matched their skills. Many people have to take on several jobs at the same time:
In the mornings I worked in a sushi restaurant, in the evenings I was a cleaner, and on weekends I worked as a food courier. – – While driving the car, I put on my headphones and listened to a podcast in Finnish to learn the language.
However, most of the interviewees have managed to gradually improve their position in the labour market. Many of them experience a sense of pride in being able to make a living for themselves and their families.
Is the contribution of a foreign employee assessed more critically than that of a Finnish one?
According to the workers interviewed, obtaining a permanent residence permit increased their enjoyment of living in Finland as it reduced uncertainty about the future and encouraged them, for example, to engage in studies to help them advance in their careers.
The negative experiences they had faced related to racism and Finns’ prejudices against immigrants. Some of them feel that both customers and managers evaluate the contribution of foreign employees more critically than that of Finnish employees.
Proficiency in Finnish is also considered important. It helps immigrants to strike up friendships and makes it easier for them to understand Finnish society. Knowledge of English, on the other hand, supports contacts with other people with an immigrant background.
Having their family join them in Finland promotes immigrants’ successful integration, as does their spouse’s and children’s enjoyment of life in Finland. Many of the interviewees also appreciate the high level of education available to children.
When you’re alone, you sometimes get homesick. But now my family is here and all is well. – – I am much happier now than when I was here alone.
People often have little advance knowledge of Finland
The interviewees said that their knowledge of Finland was limited before they moved here. They had sought information, for example, on websites, social media and from acquaintances living in Finland. The information they obtained was mainly positive, which encouraged them to move.
According to the interviewees, the factors that influenced their decision to move include, for example, the high-quality education, clean nature, and democracy. Those with families saw Finland as a good country regarding their children’s future.
– Contrary to the recent negative news reports, there are also people with a foreign background living in Finland who are happy with the working conditions and their life in this country. There are many assets to Finnish society and working life that may seem self-evident to Finns born here. However, in addition to identifying our strengths, it is important that we also see the problems and effectively address the difficulties faced by foreigners in this country. Our working culture will not remain good unless we actively work towards it, says Senior Researcher, Doctor of Political Sciences Rolle Alho from E2 Research.
About the study
This study is the first published part of the Finland’s Talents of the Future project (9/2022–12/2024). The research project seeks solutions to acute problems in working life, such as polarisation and the shortage of employees.
Please find a summary of the research report in English here.
The research project is funded by Trade Union Pro, Hyvinvointiala HALI (an organisation representing private health care and social service organisations and organisations and companies offering early childhood education and care), Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL, the Ministry of Justice, Service Union United PAM, the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries RT, the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK) , the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions SAK, Industrial Employees TP and the Finnish Pension Alliance TELA.
The publication event will be held on 16 May 2023 at 10:00–11:30 at Lasipalatsi in Helsinki. You can attend the event on site or via a live stream. Please register for the event using this link.
The study is conducted by E2 Research. E2 Research is an independent, multidisciplinary research institute that serves organisations, companies, foundations, municipalities, ministries, political decision-making, and the media by providing them with up-to-date information.
The project’s monitoring group is chaired by Juha Antila (SAK). Vice-Chair is Arja Laitinen (HALI).
For more information about the project:
Doctor of Political Sciences, Head of Research, E2 Research
+358 40 7770 869
For more information on the research results:
Doctor of Political Sciences, Senior Researcher, E2 Research
+358 50 5344 485