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The power of flexible work culture in creating happiness

In recent years, Finland has gained notoriety as the “happiest nation in the world” for its continued dominance in the UN’s World Happiness Report, ranking first for the six years running.

Yet, this happiness does not translate into notoriety. For example, many people are often surprised to hear that tech giants such as Nokia, Supercell, and Kone, are in fact Finnish. That being said, you would not be chastised by a Finn for not knowing this. We are famous for being happy–and happy not being famous.

Central to Finnish culture is the phrase “kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön,” which roughly translates to, “Whoever has found happiness, that happiness they should hide.” This phrase is not designed to encourage people to be sad, or to hide their emotions. Instead, it really just means to be humble and content, and not go around beating your own drum. It implores us to focus on who we are, as opposed to the facades we are building. This proverb guides much of Finnish culture–and is perhaps why you haven’t heard of many Finnish companies, despite having used their services.

With less emphasis on the success of those around us, the societal pressure to strive for, and attain, happiness is felt far less. To appease the oppressive climate, Finnish culture fosters a sense of community. We are all getting rained on together, at least! There is also a unique trust in the media, governmental agencies, and between citizens.

In the workplace, this notion of mutual trust is responsible for Finland’s progressive attitude towards work-life balance. It’s well reported that Finnish firms are comparatively more likely to offer flexible working hours, with a study from accounting firm Grant Thornton finding that 92% of Finnish companies allowed workers to adapt their hours, compared to just 76% in the U.K., and even less in other European countries. Whilst many firms globally have begun to accept the right to flexible work since the pandemic, Finland was decades ahead of the curve, passing its initial Flexible Working Act in 1996.

It’s very much embedded in our DNA to look out for our employees: a 2018 study found that more than four in five Finns say they trust other Finns, which was disproportionately higher than the rest of Europe. With less of a desire to get one up on the next person, it strengthens our workplace relationships, and allows happiness to be shared by enjoying a healthy work-life balance.

Despite replacing the work-hard-play-hard philosophy with flexible workplace policies, Finland remains a hotbed for successful and ingenious companies. An estimated 4,000 startups and 11 unicorns make up the country’s ecosystem, and Finnish companies are operating with quiet confidence despite a uniquely tough global environment. In 2022, Finnish startups received a record $1.8 billion in funding, and whilst forecasts suggest that 2023 figures will not reach the same heights, Finnish and other Nordic and Baltic startups continue to punch above their weight, proving their technological prowess with the emergence of new technologies and a growing deep tech scene.

While Finnish companies think that the best product will sell itself and may not shout about it as much as their noisy neighbors, we have a knack for creating ubiquitous, game-changing companies that make people’s lives easier.

In recent times, it has become clear that investing in company culture leads to better results than pushing employees to the brink of their limits. Whether you are seeking business success or a happier life, the principles of humility, trust, and balance apply all the same. Fostering a competitive and strict work environment can lead to higher profits in the short term, but over time will hinder employee performance and lead to a high turnover of staff. For these reasons, it’s crucial to put time into building a company that is culturally and financially strong, even if it may take longer, it will be worth shouting about when it’s ready and delivering on promises.

As mentioned, “kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön” does not mean a ban on all happiness. Learning how to celebrate wins is crucial in every facet of life. It means instead of just talking about happiness, put the things in place to make it happen. Much like the yearly fanfare for “Finnish secrets to happy living,” there are no shortcuts to success in life or business. Learn to take pride in humility, and over time, the world will start to shout about you.

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