Translating Finland’s Happiest Culture into the US Workplace



Ville Houttu
02/21/2020

Translating Finland’s Happiest Culture into the US Workplace_photo of people looking on laptop

In 2018 and 2019, the Northern European country of Finland was crowned the Happiest Country in the World. Due to an ever increasing emphasis on mental health and improving the modern workplace culture, this achievement has caught the eye of many. 

There are many reasons for this culture of happiness and one that shouldn’t be overlooked is the business culture. Vincit, a Finnish born software company, is a prime example of a business that has innovated and contributed to the happiness culture.

By embodying the very practices that have led Finland to happiness, Vincit has been awarded Best Workplace in Finland and Europe 3 years running. In 2016 the company expanded into the US and was awarded one of the Best Workplaces by Inc. Magazine and a Top Workplace by the OC register. 

Today I will walk you through the direct elements of Finland’s genuinely happy society and how, through direct experience, they can be translated into the US workplace.

Defining a Happy Culture

Why Finland is the Happiest Country

The country’s happiness is stimulated by an upholding of balance that prioritizes stability and safety for its citizens, while also giving them the freedom to pursue personal goals and lifestyles on the day-to-day level. 

To achieve this, the Finnish government provides certain universal securities, while stepping away to provide a sense of choice to the people. Weforum breaks down how the government offers a strong social safety net in combination with individual liberties and a healthy work-life balance to give the country its edge. In other words, Anu Partanen of Huffpost describes Finnish society as being built in such a way that its people feel supported while still having complete control over their lives. 

In Vincit’s situation, Finland’s governmental style became synonymous with business ownership and management and thus similar structures were enacted. The leadership lessons become workplace practices and the communities of happy residents became happy, productive employees. There is nothing culturally bounding that holds other US companies back from also making these changes toward office happiness. 

Point #1 - Minimize Management

Modern day business leadership is truly a service role. As a company leader, the biggest priorities should be (1) empowering employees by any means necessary. This sets them up to focus solely on the principal tasks ahead instead of being consumed by trivial day-to-day woes, not unlike the Finnish way of governance. The accompanying priority, of equal importance, (2) is to center energies and efforts around removing barriers that keep workers from achieving their best. This comes in the form of full and free-range access to communication and/or supplying the necessary tools, for example.

During its reconstruction as a company, Vincit discovered that a shift towards an organization with minimal management is a must. Not only does this tactic minimize the amount of time spent on internal compliance, but it also keeps employees motivated to do their job, knowing decisions are being made in their best interest by management on a need-to-know basis. The biggest take-away from minimal management is having the ability to state what needs to be done and letting the employees shine through the work produced, rather than hiring and demanding the job be done with a set of strict company procedures in mind. 

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To put things in perspective, here are statistics demonstrating the amount of wasted workforce energy Americans give to useless management. There are 23 million people who label themselves as managers in American society according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s one manager to every 4.7 employees. 111 million Americans (non-managers) are spending 16% of their time on completing tasks via internal compliance. This equals an annual waste of almost 9 million worker years.

With so much waste, there needs to be disruption, a different way to meet the needs of today’s workforce. Modern workers want to be able to make an impact, have a purpose while having flexibility in their work and career. 

Point #2 - Leadership as a Service

A flat organization with minimal upper management and little to no procedural policies still needs structure, as to not drift into chaos. This structure can be created from a bottom-up leadership model that emphasizes the needs and dreams of each and every employee. 

In leadership, one size definitely does not fit all. Your employees are individuals with individual needs. For instance, a recent college graduate needs a very different setup of feedback, coaching, and support than a worker who is a parent with small kids, or even a seasoned professional who is planning for his or her retirement. The leadership system needs to support all employees in different manners, because ultimately the company benefits most from workers who are happy and therefore productive. Those who stay happy and productive for a long time avoid burnouts, and stay with the company longer as opposed to changing jobs. It is key to remember: employees are the company’s most important asset.

Just like the modern workforce is changing, the image of the modern business leader is also shifting. The culture of business no longer glorifies Machievellian, by any means necessary, leaders who competed with their peers to get to the top. The image of leaders are now transitioning to those who are focused on leading by serving, not competing. Leadership should be looked at as a service role, always thinking about how decisions affect others. Shifting leadership to be a duty-driven role for the people has had numerous positive effects on Vincit and its ever-growing business. 

To mimic Finnish societal structure, Vincit created an  e-commerce tool that includes services that the company provides to the employees. We call it Leadership as a Service (LaaS). The available resources allow workers to order performance analysis, salary discussions, career coaching, or all other types of coaching to better themselves and their standing with the company. Employees can then directly be in control of what they need for their own unique roles while also having the support to invest in their own personal growth, and what they feel is best.

Want to know more about workplace culture?  Read our guide here.

Many workplaces are starting to adopt the opinion that leadership as a service role should be the new norm. Forbes found that employees feel much more motivated and engaged with their workplace if they feel that their leaders are genuinely interested in the subordinate AND find ways to invest in their growth. Inc reminds readers that "The world is increasingly hyper-personalized, and employees are beginning to expect this level of personalization in the workplace, too."

Conclusion

In the end, Finland’s happiness stemming from the balance between government-led stability and personal freedom for its citizens has trickled down into modern Finnish business culture. Vincit mirrored this phenomenon by supporting employees with programs and benefits while allowing them to ultimately choose customized solutions for their own professional development. When making this change from a growth and profitability focused workplace, to an employee and client satisfaction driven company, profits and growth naturally shot up.

The victories weren’t exclusive to Finland either. In the last 5 years, Vincit has brought its winning culture into the US and seen similar victories. The lesson is really to provide the freedom for each individual employee to control their future, and as a company, offering the means and support for them to do so. 

 

Photo courtesy:  Pexels

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