Understanding work culture in Helsinki

work culture
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Updated on 06 February, 2020

If there is one thing you should know about the work environment in Helsinki (or indeed Finland), it must be this: do not talk about salaries or other income. At least not openly at coffee breaks. People asking about other peoples paychecks are considered rude. Those bragging about how much they make are seen as an embarrassment to themselves. When it comes to money, modesty is a virtue. The same applies to education and former career. Listing your universities, titles and positions earns you quickly a reputation for trying to be better than the rest.

Punctuality

Obviously, workplaces in Helsinki vary a lot. Traditional government offices differ from start-ups. Older generations may have other ideals than generation X. But there remain some common, unwritten rules and guidelines one should be aware of. The first one is punctuality. When there are fixed working hours, everyone is expected to follow them. The same goes with, for example, meetings. They start precisely, not ten minutes later. The one being late is stealing other participants' valuable time and money. Major offence.

Behaviour at work

Work, with all its commitments and responsibilities, is a serious matter. Reliability and trust are close to a sacrament. Agreements are respected and not questioned afterwards. Orders will be delivered. A country surely is true to its Lutheran pedigree.

Workplace behaviour and the language used can be rather frank and blunt. For a newcomer used to euphemisms, this may seem impolite and rude. Necessarily, it is not. People are, most of the time, just direct and waste no time for added coatings like “thank you” or “please”. Efficiency is a priority.

Relationships with coworkers

Again, one workplace is different from another, especially if you compare traditional local companies to multinationals. And people differ, it is hard to make generalisations. For some, work is a means to make ends meet. For others, it is an encompassing passion and a reason to live. However, the majority tend to make a distinction between work and private life. People are quite family-oriented and are not too eager to go for after-work drinks, at least not every day or not even every week. There are kids to be picked from kindergarten. Wife/husband has a yoga session/ice hockey match.

Communication at the workplace

The level of communication may not be as good as it should be – even if you are allowed and encouraged to speak up your mind. And there is a room for improvement in small talk skills. Some researchers have even gone as far as calling the local work environment “autistic”. Feelings and emotions are better kept inside than brought out in the open.

Absence of hierarchy

Definitely, on the positive side is the low level of hierarchy. Entering a workplace, it is hard to tell the boss from a clerk. They are all on first name terms and wear that same light casual, light formal outfit. Dress code per se does not exist.

For those coming from more hierarchical cultures, this relative lack of superiors can be a cause for stress. It is true that people are more or less left to their own devices. This should be seen as a positive thing, take a look at the bright side. It means there is a lot of independence to organise your work. Expectations may be high, and you are supposed to perform. But, when and if you do, the means are of less relevance.

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