Tuomo Alasoini: Are Finns hard-working and does it really matter?


Diligence and laziness are the topic of many proverbs. Finnish sayings adopt two stances on diligent work. The most common approach is to idolise it as a sign of a person's morality, source of wealth or a downright state of happiness. All this is encapsulated in an old proverb, according to which "diligence is the mother of happiness because it is prepared even when push comes to shove". Another approach is more reserved, suggesting that smart people are better off than hard-working ones and that unnecessary diligence is not that beneficial. After all, we all have heard that "stupid people work a lot, wise people get away with less".

Debate about working hours

Finnish public debate has lately revolved around the length of working hours and holidays. Two kinds of arguments have been put forward.

Economic arguments have focused on whether longer working hours and shorter holidays would really benefit Finland economically. Finding common ground has not been made any easier by the fact that the legislative changes that the Finnish government is going to get through are primarily intended to affect the public sector where value increment is famously difficult to measure.

Moral arguments have also been brought up. Some people take short hours and long holidays as a sign of Finnish people's languor and outright laziness.

Workers develop their work

Research does not support the idea that a desire for short hours and long holidays would be a sign of laziness among Finns. Quite the opposite in fact! Finns actively develop both themselves and their work.

According to the Tekes-funded MEADOW survey, almost three out of four workers had developed solutions to improve their own work and given suggestions to their supervisor. More than one in three had participated in the development of products or services. A clear majority feels their work supports their learning and personal development.

The length of working hours is not a sign of diligence

An overall understanding has been obscured in the recent Finnish debate about work time. In a repetitive work, where performance is easy to measure, the number of working hours bears a genuine financial importance. In information and service work, however, a few additional minutes to the daily work time is a marginal issue in comparison to how the total working hours are used.

The flexibility of working hours is a far more important factor than their length. In terms of daily work time flexibility, Finland is the European leader. The MEADOW study also reveals that Finnish people also take care of work-related matters on their free time, if necessary. Up to two out of five employees report doing so daily or weekly.

The formal number of working hours is not an indicator of diligence, commitment or work ethic.

Hard work – civil virtue or a competitive factor?

Protestant ethic idolises diligence as a civil virtue. But it cannot serve as a means to put Finland to a path of faster economic growth.

Our information- and service-oriented economy increasingly emphasises the importance of personal competences, creativity, initiative and enthusiasm as the key means to create additional value. The problems of the Finnish economy and working life do not arise from the purported laziness of the Finnish people. A far greater problem is our inability to manage and organise work in a way that would harness people's competences, creativity, initiative and enthusiasm as sources of real competitive advantages for Finnish work organisations.

Tuomo Alasoini
Chief Adviser
twitter: @tuomoalasoini

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