Doing business in Finland

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Finland was a province and then a grand duchy under Sweden from the 12th to the 19th centuries, and an autonomous grand duchy of Russia after 1809. It gained complete independence in 1917. During World War II, Finland successfully defended its independence through cooperation with Germany and resisted subsequent invasions by the Soviet Union - albeit with some loss of territory. In the subsequent half century, Finland transformed from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy; per capita income is among the highest in Western Europe.

A member of the EU since 1995, Finland was the only Nordic state to join the euro single currency at its initiation in January 1999. In the 21st century, the key features of Finland's modern welfare state are high quality education, promotion of equality, and a national social welfare system - currently challenged by an aging population and the fluctuations of an export-driven economy.

Finland is consistently ranked the world’s happiest country in the annual World Happiness Report. The report writers credit the citizens of Finland's strong feelings of communal support and mutual trust. Additionally, Finns feel strongly that they are free to make their own choices, and there is minimal suspicion of government corruption. All these factors are strong contributors to overall happiness.

Business culture in Finland

Equality and fairness are important values for Finns. In Finnish society, everyone is equal and must be treated fairly. Finnish culture places more value on individualism than many other cultures. Freedom of the individual is strongly present in the Finnish legislation.

It is common for Finns to trust other people and the authorities. Democracy and freedom of speech are also held in high regard in Finland. Everyone has the right to participate in the activities of society.

Finns also value their privacy and own space. For example, young people are encouraged to become independent and move into their own homes. Finns naturally keep their distance from other people, especially when it comes to strangers. From a Finnish perspective, it is polite not to disturb the other person. For example, when on a bus, Finns only sit next to another person when all possible window places are taken, and you have to start filling up the aisle seats.

The most typical of Finnish values, sisu, is difficult to translate. However, it implies courage, toughness, stamina, stubbornness, single-mindedness and tenacity – the ability to endure hardship and adversity.

As with other Nordic cultures, punctuality and organisation are essential to Finns. The climate and history of conflict with neighbouring countries make Finland a risk-averse culture. It takes time to persuade Finns to do something a new way, especially if it runs counter to their own experiences.

In the workplace, Finns are self-disciplined, industrious individualists who nevertheless like teamwork and team spirit. Their responsibility and authority should be clearly defined, because they like to be left alone to get on with their job. They intensely dislike close supervision.

Flexible working has been embedded in Finland’s working culture for more than two decades. This is largely thanks to the Working Hours Act, passed in 1996, which gives most staff the right to adjust the typical daily hours of their workplace by starting or finishing up to three hours earlier or later. Workers are still expected to put in an average of 40 hours a week, but this could include different arrangements from regularly choosing fixed days to be based “at the summer cottage or your favourite coffee shop”, to starting and finishing early in order to manage childcare or be able to exercise outdoors while it’s still light.

Organisations are not usually hierarchical and are relatively flat in structure. There is always an informal relationship between the boss and the workers, and senior managers/bosses are approachable in a way that would be impossible in southern Europe. Finns respect managers who are experienced and hardworking rather than managers with status alone.

Finns judge you by your degree of luotettavuus (reliability). Do what you have said you are going to do! You keep to time, deliver on deadline, and to the highest quality possible. Your reliability is defined by your competence and the fact that you never promise what you cannot deliver or do. It is generally recognised that they will never let you down either.

Finns like to start a conversation by going straight to the point. The Finnish style of speech is direct and straightforward. There may be some quiet moments in conversations, but silence is not regarded as a negative thing. There is no need to fill quiet moments with speech. In Finland, it is considered rude to interrupt people when they are speaking. Finns normally wait for this discussion partners to finish before speaking themselves.

Finns have a reputation for reticence, thoughtfulness and unemotional behaviour. They are quiet, reflective, sombre and, for some, seemingly stubborn and standoffish. They are unwilling to speak unless they have something of importance to say. This aloofness is not a reflection of authoritarianism or hierarchy; as with their Nordic cousins, Finns believe in egalitarian, flat organisations. While national bureaucracies may be complex, they are not hierarchical. Finnish society is not overly formal; rather, it is relatively relaxed, whether at home, work, or the sauna.

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Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Finnish colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Doing business in Finland' sample course outline.  All training is tailored to meet your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

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