Significance of work and its effect on employees

Finnish employees feel that it is acceptable for their work to be reasonably demanding, as long as the working conditions are satisfactory and the content of the work is meaningful to them. Employees are reasonably satisfied that their work is meaningful. The operating procedures and management practices used in any organisation have a considerable impact on staff perceptions of the significance of their work.

Important factors of work

A recent report by Juha Antila, of the Ministry of Labour, investigates the perceived significance of work in Finland. Although work and working conditions have changed a great deal in the past few years, employees’ opinions on job satisfaction have remained stable: people are relatively satisfied with their work – although it should be noted that satisfaction is not the same as feeling joy in work.

Employees’ work orientation has an impact on how they experience the significance of their work. Expectations from work have increased as working life has changed. Almost half of employees regard work content as slightly more important than pay. Young employees under the age of 30 years and female employees are more likely to appreciate work content more than pay, compared with the oldest age group and with male employees. When work is compared to other areas of life, employees with a low level of education consider work as extremely important more frequently than highly educated employees do. Reasonably well educated employees and especially young employees think that work should not play too big a role in life. This indicates that there is a turning point in the perception of working life in Finland.

Autonomy of work, relations with colleagues and interesting tasks have the most positive effect on the attractiveness of work. Only 8% of Finnish employees consider that they are in an ideal job. More than four out of 10 employees (43%) consider that they are in a far from ideal job. Upper-level salaried employees (i.e. in professional occupations) think more often than lower-level salaried employees do that they are in a nearly ideal job. Blue-collar employees consider themselves to be far from the ideal job more often than other employee groups do.

Differing attitudes towards job significance

Unlike job satisfaction, the significance of work varies as working life changes. Work significance is not a big issue among employees. Those working in the public sector, organisations and charities perceive their work as being slightly more meaningful than others do.

Socioeconomic groups have a clear connection with the ratings given to the significance of work (see figure below). The higher the employee is in the hierarchy of the work organisation, the more meaningful his or her work feels. Women are more likely than men to regard their work as important, meaningful and relevant. Moreover, women’s more positive perceptions of the significance of their work is based on the more positive experiences of women than men in blue-collar and lower-level clerical/professional occupations. Young people assess the significance of work more negatively than older wage and salary earners do.

Significance of work, by age, sex and socioeconomic group, 2003

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Source: Wage and Salary Earners Survey 2003

Impact of work organisation

The operating procedures and management practices used in any organisation have a considerable impact on the degree of significance that employees attach to their work. Positive feedback, openness and taking people into account increase the level of significance . A proactively operating organisation observes and evaluates changes in the environment and can, therefore, react to the changes in a flexible and functional manner. In proactive organisations, staff have the opportunity to influence their work and, consequently, their responsibility increases. Usually, people would like to express themselves and their ideas at work; they like to establish and experience a sense of ownership of their work.

There are notable differences between how employees at proactive and other workplaces perceive the degree of significance of their own work. At proactive workplaces, 29% of employees find that the degree of significance of their work is high, whereas only 12% of employees at other workplaces feel the same way.

About the study

A total of three different datasets were used in the study. Statistics Finland conducted the Wage and Salary Earners Survey 2003, which was tailored to the needs of the study. Data were also used from Statistics Finland’s Quality of Work Life Survey and from the Working Life Barometer of the Ministry of Labour. The data were mostly quantitative.

Reference

Antila, J., Työn mielekkyydestä ja mielettömyydestä [On the meaningfulness and mindlessness of work], Labour policy study 305, Ministry of Labour, Helsinki, 2006.

Marko Ylitalo, Statistics Finland

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