Survey points to increase in time pressures and job insecurity

The latest quality of work life survey, which was conducted in 2008, outlines the changes that have taken place in working conditions in Finland during the past 30 years. Positive changes have been observed in the possibilities for learning and development at work, as well as an increase in the variety of tasks. Negative developments include a rise in problems related to time pressure, job insecurity and social relationships, particularly in the public sector.

For three decades, Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus) has been conducting extensive interview-based work life surveys, which examine the varied changes in employees’ working conditions. (see below for more details about the surveys). The latest of these surveys, conducted in 2008, explores the positive and negative changes that have occurred in Finnish working conditions over the past 30 years.

Negative trends

Among the most notable negative changes is the increase in time pressure and employment insecurity observed since the late 1980s. The relationship between work and free time has also become blurred. As workplaces now tend to emphasise individual work performance and competition is increasing, social relationships and team work can suffer.

Time pressure, insufficient personnel, uncertainty about the future and a lack of openness have all increased, particularly in the public sector. Negative developments started to appear at local government level after the recession in the 1990s; however, according to the latest survey in 2008, the 2000s have seen an increase in work life problems especially in the public sector at central government level. These employees complain more often than they did before about the insufficient staff levels available to do the work (Figure 1). The openness of the work atmosphere and encouragement have also decreased. State government employees are now more afraid of unforeseeable changes than employees in local government or in the private sector.

Figure 1: Too few personnel to carry workload, by sector (%)

Too few personnel to carry workload, by sector (%)

Note: The data represent those who fully agree that there are too few people to do the work.

Source: Quality of work life surveys 1990–2008

Too few personnel to carry workload, by sector (%)

Positive trends

The quality of work life surveys show that, in many respects, the past 30 years have also brought positive changes to Finnish working life. Not only are employees increasingly competent, but the opportunities to develop their skills at work and to receive training and education at work have also improved notably (Figure 2). Tasks have become more varied and independent, and the possibilities for employees to influence different aspects of their work have improved. Furthermore, employees consider their work as important and significant more often than they used to.

Figure 2: Opportunities for development at work, by gender (%)

Opportunities for development at work, by gender (%)

Source: Quality of work life surveys 1977–2008

Opportunities for development at work, by gender (%)

Employees in Finland appreciate the content of their work and the opportunities for development that work provides; they value these to a greater extent than the career advancement prospects related to their work. Good social relationships, job security and a long-term perspective are also important aspects of work. Paid employment is a significant part of employees’ life, and many would like to continue it in some form even after reaching retirement age.

International comparison

Overall, Finland compares favourably in international terms regarding low hierarchies in the workplace, discussions between the employee and supervisor, the application of information technology (IT) and the frequency of team work. Employees in Finland consider that they have better opportunities for personal development at work than employees in other European Union Member States. Likewise, the Finnish workers have the same opinion with regard to receiving training and education at work and influencing their tasks.

About the survey

The quality of work life surveys carried out by Statistics Finland in 1977, 1984, 1990, 1997, 2003 and 2008 are extensive research tools involving between 3,000 and 5,700 wage and salary earners. They monitor employees’ working conditions and changes in them. Data are collected through personal face-to-face interviews using a standardised questionnaire. The sample is obtained from the labour force survey. The non-response rate in the quality of work life survey has varied between 8% and 22%.


Työolojen kolme vuosikymmentä. Työolotutkimusten tuloksia 1977–2008 (in Finnish, 1.4Mb PDF) [Three decades of working conditions. Results from the quality of work life surveys 1977–2008], Helsinki, Statistics Finland, 2008.

Anna Pärnänen, Statistics Finland

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