The right attitude makes the day
Global work life that crosses national borders can be seen as a threat or an opportunity. If Finland wants to do well in the competition, a flexible attitude and practical everyday solutions are needed in work life.
A small basketball basket is fixed to the wall of Guday Tewodros’ work room.
When Tewodros came from Ethiopia to Finland to look for work in 2000, he did not stay to wait for the cultural shock to hit him. The basketball player looked up a local club where he started to play. Already after half a year he was asked to coach the boys.
– Sports and hobbies give good opportunities to adjust to life in Finland. I can recommend it for everybody, Tewodros smiles.
Six months after he arrived, Tewodros enrolled in an English-language course on IT at the Vocational University of Turku. In addition to studying, he worked here and there, as a cleaner, among other jobs. The possibility opened up to get his own line of work when he sent in his application to the city of Vantaa.
Half a year after he graduated, Tewodros worked as service secretary of the city of Vantaa. A couple of years later he got a job at the information management unit. Now he is working as the ICT service coordinator.
The decisive factors in adapting to life in Finland and in his work success have been learning the Finnish language, a strong motivation, and a people-centred approach.
– It is necessary to learn Finnish, otherwise it’s hard to get work. If you can’t do something, you must study. If you don’t have work, you have to look for it. You also have to take any job, until you find the right one.
About language skills
Last autumn Tewodros started to study for the higher university level ICT degree in Finnish. The father of two children works during the days and studies in the evenings and weekends. He has not noticed discrimination or negative attitudes.
– Everything depends on yourself, Tewodros says.
It has also been helpful that the city of Vantaa has recruited foreign workers already for several years. But positive discrimination, in other words, favouring some particular group, is not in the picture – the most suitable person gets the job.
An immigrant may also have some language skills that are an advantage in the work. 103 different languages are spoken at Vantaa, and language skills are an important resource from the viewpoint of social services.
– For instance, the culture is understood so much better by a person with the same cultural background, says Kirsi-Marja Lievonen, personnel manager of the city of Vantaa.
Vantaa’s job self-sufficiency is over 100%. In other words, Vantaa city could easily fill all of its job vacancies, if necessary, from among the inhabitants of Vantaa. At the same time, however, there is unemployment, as well as a shortage of highly educated workforce.
The biggest foreign-language professional groups employed by the city of Vantaa are teachers, facility maintenance workers, nurses and nurses’ aids, children’s day care staff, and doctors. These are all occupations in which the Finnish language is absolutely necessary. Sufficient knowledge of a language is nevertheless a relative concept, which can also be used too easily as an excuse for rejecting foreign workers.
– It is important to have a sufficient knowledge of the language, but language skills must not be used as an excuse for the wrong reasons, says Tuija Jokinen, development consultant of the city of Vantaa.
The multi-cultural and heterogeneous aspects of work communities in the city of Vantaa have been developed by offering multi-cultural training for supervisors. Various tools are used in recruiting, for instance, to help in testing language skills. A two-way model has been developed for work orientation, so that an employee is oriented to the work community, and the other way round – the work community learns about the new worker.
– But culture is only one factor. Familiarity with a culture may also have its pitfalls. It is tempting to think that a person behaves in a typical way because he or she is Russian, even though the reason for the behaviour might be something else.
At Vantaa, instead of speaking about a multi-cultural workplace, they prefer to talk about the heterogeneity of the work community. They emphasize good leadership which takes into account cultural backgrounds and seeks for common practices.
Daily life is built on good will
Professor Pirkko Pitkänen, from the Pedagogics Unit of the University of Tampere, says that the problems of foreigners who are trying to adapt to the work community often arise from daily routines. The difficulties they encounter in everyday life are not given enough attention.
– More practical models should be created for facilitating their everyday life. That would help to improve people’s attitudes too.
Unfortunately this seldom happens, especially outside the metropolitan area.
– Efforts are not made to remove the barriers that prevent interaction. The tendency is to wait for a foreign employee to start to feel miserable enough to leave. Harassment and bullying are found also in the metropolitan area.
Pitkänen has studied inter-cultural communication and ways of working in eastern Finland and other parts of Finland. She has noted that often the experiences of foreigners are not listened to, and there is hardly any dialogue between them and Finns.
According to Marja-Liisa Trux, PhD, Finnish people still tend to believe that Finland is separate from the rest of the world. Finns are free to go to other countries, but the foreigners who come here are perceived as a bit strange.
– Of course there are also other nations in the world that picture themselves as cut off from the rest of the world – for example North-Korea.
During the past 100 years, over one million people have left Finland to go abroad. On the other hand, only 224,388 persons, or 4.2% of the population of Finland were foreigners in 2010. Of the entire Finnish workforce, 3.5% are foreigners.
Although the number of foreigners in Finland is still small, we live in an epoch of border-crossing technology and global mobility, so we can no longer stay isolated within the borders of national states. According to Pirkko Pitkänen, everybody needs to make adjustments.
– Also the majority of the population has to change their habits. It is never painless, and easily leads to a negative atmosphere. With minor adjustments, daily routines could be made more fluent. It requires understanding of different cultures, open discussion, and the will to get things moving in a positive direction.
Flexibility is a must
The nature of immigration has changed. Nowadays people travel from one country to another with their suitcases ready and packed. Especially highly educated persons don’t leave the country permanently. One of the biggest challenges in the future will be the recruiting of highly educated employees. But Finland is not the most attractive alternative because of its geographic location, climate and language.
– People who cross borders rarely make decisions to stay permanently in some country. They cannot be expected to study and learn the local language. A more cosmopolitan attitude is needed, says Pitkänen.
– More international schools should be available for foreigners in Finland. If parents come here for half a year, it is unrealistic to expect that they enrol their children in a Finnish-language school.
The Finnish school system has a good reputation as a result of the international Pisa study, but the image will easily crumble, if education cannot be offered in English.
Also workplaces need to be more flexible.
– If writing a report in Finnish presents problems, an employee might well write it in English, if the others understand it.
Text: Tiia Lappalainen
Text: Tiia Lappalainen
Adapting American management doctrines to suit Finland
Marja-Liisa Trux has studied multicultural work communities. She feels that Finnish multicultural management has been influenced too much by management doctrines from the United States, which categorize employees even more strictly than before.
According to Trux, the idea known by the name of Diversity Management, has lost its original goal based on equality and human dignity.
– When an enterprise seeks for success factors from an employee’s gender or religion, can it be fair from the viewpoint of the individual? Trux wonders.
According to her, people are labelled too easily based on their culture. Some characteristics are interpreted as being due to the person’s nationality, although they may arise from poverty, for instance.
– In Finland the fish has been swallowed, hook, line and sinker. American authoritarian management came as a by-product of Diversity Management, although we should have created a management style that gives space to the employee.
Marja-Liisa Trux: Doctoral thesis ”Ethnic Civility and its Cultural Regulation Among the Staff of a Finnish High-Tech Company”.
www.tsr.fi > see number: 105021
Pirkko Pitkänen’s leadership projects: www.tsr.fi > see numbers: 110304 and 102249.