Working conditions and workers’ well-being evolve

A recent survey of working conditions in Finland has identified subtle changes in the ways people work. The results of the triennial survey and data collected from a variety of sources have been published in a report compiled by 70 experts. Respondents say their work has become more fragmented, and that they increasingly have to work from more than one location. The study also examines the impact of these changes on the well-being of Finnish workers.

Work and Health in Finland 2012

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) has published the results of its most recent survey on working conditions in Finland. The report Work and health in Finland 2012 (in Finnish) was compiled by 70 experts who collected data from a variety of sources in 2012. The research included a Work and Health 2012 telephone survey of 2,118 people in employment. The survey was carried out between February and June 2012, using a random population sample of people aged between 20 and 68. Similar reports have been released triennially since 1997.

Key findings

Mobile work more common

The results show that people’s working time is becoming more flexible and is less likely to be tied to one particular location. Almost a quarter (23%) of the Work and Health Survey respondents worked or collaborated daily with someone from outside their own workplace. This was particularly common in the transport and storage sector, but also in public administration, construction and administrative services.

This appears to be due to the increase in network-like production and information work, as well as improvements in information technology.

Working days are increasingly spent at a client’s or a business partner’s office, at home or in a vehicle. Consequently, more work is done in places not specifically designed for working.

At the same time, working hours, employee cooperation and communication in work communities are being built in different ways. More and more people are also seeing the ‘internationalisation’ of business in their everyday lives. Among the Work and Health Survey respondents, 13% reported that they had made at least one business trip abroad during the past 12 months.

There are new challenges for supervisors. These include, for example, growth in the size of organisations and the distribution of work to many different locations. The survey suggested management, flow of information and the support of development at work were better in smaller organisations. If a supervisor worked elsewhere, as reported by 20% of the respondents, the employee had less feedback, support and help for both work and career development.

‘Work engagement’

A feeling of being ‘engaged’ by the job was experienced quite often by respondents to the survey. They were asked about their drive and dedication, and how interesting they found their work; 90% of respondents said they experienced ‘work engagement’ at least once a week, and 40% said they experienced it daily.

Work engagement is known to promote the financial success of organisations. It increases an employee’s commitment to work and their performance. It also lessens an employee’s desire to retire.

Basic work-related criteria that help to promote work engagement include independence, a sense of solidarity, and feeling successful. The survey showed that the smaller the unit and the organisation, the more independence and success were felt.

Economics of well-being at work

Asked about their health, three-quarters of workers said that they believed they would be able to continue in their profession until they qualified for an old age pension. The current retirement age in Finland is 63.

Almost three-quarters of workers aged 45 or older were prepared to consider working after the age of 63. This is a significant 32 percentage point increase compared to the response of the same age group in the 2006 Work and Health Survey, when 42% said that nothing would persuade them to continue working after reaching 63.

The survey also looked at the well-being of people at work and its economic impact, calculating the cost to the state of people taking sick leave and claiming disability pensions. To this was added the cost of accidents at work and the related medical treatments and lowered work ability of those injured. The total annual cost of these two factors was estimated to be around €40 billion.

The report suggests these expenses could be reduced by improving the well-being of people at work. The authors believe it is possible to ‘increase participation in work and thus improve economic durability’.

Commentary

The monitoring of working conditions is becoming increasingly difficult. What makes it particularly difficult to carry out this type of survey is the growing use of mobile phones. In Finland, the use of mobile phones has overtaken the use of traditional landlines and access to phone numbers has become more difficult. Researchers reported that for the Work and Health 2012 survey, a phone number could not found for 32% of the original sample. In the 1997 and 2006 surveys, the corresponding figures were 12% and 16%.

Simo Virtanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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