High work intensity but greater working time flexibility

Since 1992, the quality of working life in Finland has been monitored from the perspective of employees by the Working Life Barometer. The survey provides an indication of past trends, the current situation and expected future trends. In 2012, almost half of the respondents felt the employment situation was getting worse and a third thought the performance of their employer was declining. Work intensity is considered to be high while working time flexibility has increased.

Background

The quality of working life in Finland is monitored annually from the perspective of employees by the Working Life Barometer. The survey has been published since 1992.

The report gives an up-to-date picture of work organisation, working time arrangements and wage setting, education, training and autonomy, discrimination and violence in the workplace as well as health and work ability. The survey also maps employees’ perceptions of the labour market situation and changes in the working life.

Telephone interviews are conducted each autumn on behalf of the Labour Force Survey of Statistics Finland. The data can be generalised to cover the entire population of employees in Finland.

In the 2012 survey (11.6 MB PDF), 1,552 employees were interviewed. The response rate was 77.4%. The survey provides an indication of past trends, the current situation and expected trends in the near future. The barometer results are grouped in four sectors – industry, private services, municipalities and the national-level public sector.

Indicators for quality of working life

The quality of working life is measured using several indicators – ‘job security’, ‘equal treatment’, ‘motivation, innovativeness and mutual trust’ and ‘resources in relation to the demands of the work’. There are several questions for each indicator.

Job security

Questions for this indicator address threats in the labour market, including lay-offs, temporary lay-offs, and the possibility of being moved from a current role at work to another assignment. In 2012, the score for job security, on scale from 0 to 10, was 7.7. A year earlier, the corresponding score was 7.5 (Figure 1). In 2012 the job security score was lowest in industry at 7, and highest in the local and regional public sector at 8.2.

Equal treatment

Questions for this indicator ask about open conversations and communication at the workplace and about workers’ equal treatment. In 2012 the score for equal treatment was 6.3. The score has increased little by little over the past ten years – it stood at 5.9 in 2003. Differences between sectors were very small in 2012, ranging from 6.1 to 6.4.

Motivation, innovativeness and mutual trust

Questions in this category ask how employee’s suggestions for improvement and change are addressed and how workers are encouraged to learn and try new things. The score for motivation, innovativeness and mutual trust was 6.6 in 2012. The score has gone up over the past ten years – it stood at 6.1 in 2003. In 2012 the score was 6.1 in industry, 6.7 in private services and municipalities and 6.8 in the national public sector.

Resources in relation to the demands of the work

Questions for this indicator seek information about physical and mental workload in relation to the demands of the job. Respondents are also asked about workload, specifically about ratio between the number tasks performed and worker numbers.

The score was 6.2 in 2012 – the same as in 2003. In 2012 the score was lowest in local and regional public sector bodies (5.6) and highest in the national public sector (6.8).

The changes in the four quality of working life indicators have been small over the past ten years (Figure 1). The biggest change can been seen in assessments of job security as a result of the current precarious labour market situation.

Scores for ‘equal treatment’ and ‘motivation, innovativeness and mutual trust’ have changed very little. In the industry sector, ‘motivation, innovativeness and mutual trust’ scores lower than in other sectors.

‘Resources in relation to the demands of the work’ has not changed during the past ten years, and the physical and mental strain of work is as high as it was ten years ago. Work is putting a strain on employees, especially in local and regional government bodies.

Figure 1: Indicators for quality of working life

Figure 1: Indicators for quality of working life

Note: Reponses are given on a scale of 0–10.

Source. The Working life Barometer 2003–2012

Key findings

More optimism about finding a new job

The survey looked at workers’ views about the employment situation in general and the economic performance of businesses in 2011 and 2012 compared with 2010.

In 2012, almost half (46%) of the respondents believed the employment situation was getting worse and about a third (34%) thought that the economic performance of their employer was declining.

However, the survey showed the employees questioned had become more optimistic about their chances of finding a new job which matched their skills if they found themselves out of work for any reason. In 2012, 36 % were sure they would find a new job and 42 % considered it likely.

Young people are more likely than older people to think they would get a new job if they needed one.

Improved opportunities to learn

Opportunities to learn and to participate in training at the workplace have improved in the 2000s. In 2012, 83% said they could constantly learn new things at work. Figures show 57% had participated in employer-paid training. Learning at work and training were more common in the public sector and for upper-level and lower-level employees compared to the private sector and manual workers.

New working methods

Roughly half of the respondents said that in 2012 tasks had been reallocated and that new working methods or information systems were being used at their workplace. This was most common in the national public sector and in bigger establishments – those with at least 200 workers.

Many respondents said they had more input in designing and implementing changes. However, there are clear differences between socio-economic groups in employee participation. Upper-level employees (63%) are almost twice as likely as manual workers (32%) to be given good opportunities to take part in developing the workplace.

High work intensity

Work intensity is considered to be high. In 2012, 65% of respondents said that they worked to tight deadlines or at very high speed often or fairly often. Intensity is especially high in local and regional government bodies, in big establishments, among women and in the 35–44 age group.

Increased working time flexibility

Autonomy about speed of work or the content of tasks has decreased a little in the past ten years, while autonomy in the division of tasks has remained the same. On the other hand, working time flexibility has increased. The proportion of employees who have flexible working time has increased by ten percentage points in seven years, up to 70% in 2012. Upper-level and lower-level employees had better opportunities for flexibility than manual workers. Bigger establishments were more likely to offer workers flexibility than small ones.

Bullying and violence

  • has been an increase in reports of bullying by co-workers during the past few years. In 2012, 37% had sometimes seen bullying by co-workers at their workplace, while 3% reported observing continuous bullying. Figures show 29% had sometimes observed bullying by clients and 4% continuous bullying. One in four (24%) reported having seen bullying by supervisors sometimes, and 2% continuously.
  • to violence or threats by clients seems to have remained at the same level during 2009–2011, but in 2012 a slight increase was reported. In 2012, 9% of respondents reported exposure to violence or threats once or several times during the previous 12 months. Women were subjected to violence or threats of violence by clients more often than men.
  • risk of violence or threats by clients is most prevalent in the local and regional public sector. In in 2012, 20% reported exposure to violence or threats by clients once or several times during the previous 12 months. In the national public sector, the figure was 9%; in private services it was 8%; in industry less than 1% of respondents reported exposure to violence and threats by clients.

Employees’ work ability

Work ability was assessed using the Work Ability Index (WAI). WAI is an instrument used in clinical occupational health and research to assess work ability during health examinations and workplace surveys. Work ability has remained stable in the 2000s.

In 2012, the work ability of 52% of employees was excellent, good for 39% good and average or poor for 9%. Men scored higher than women on the index. Work ability declines with age and about a fifth (19%) of 55−64-year-olds had average or poor work ability.

Commentary

The objective of the Working Life Barometer is to monitor changes in the quality of Finnish working life from the perspective of ordinary employees. The survey has been conducted annually since 1992 and many of the variables have been retained across the years. So this survey gives a good picture of the changes that have taken place in work and working conditions in Finland during the past 20 years.

Perkiö-Mäkelä Merja, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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