Flexible Working and Finnish Trust

Neil HartleyHealth & Safety Issues/TrendsLeave a Comment

woman working from home

I don’t know what the commute is like in Finland but I doubt it comes close to that suffered by the majority of us in the UK. Yet, while the Finns brought the latest version of their Working Hours Act into effect on Jan 1, 2020, I spent 3 hours driving the 50 miles to Southampton last week through the morning rush ‘hour’. No accidents or other obvious signs of traffic disruption, just gridlock preventing me from getting to what was a monthly meeting and everyone else from doing whatever they were doing.

Wasted productivity, increased stress and a general dent to everyone’s mental well-being, not to mention the impact on the environment. Could I have got the train? OK, the strikes are over but I still have to drive to my local station (which has no parking) get a taxi at the other end etc. I took the ‘easy’ option.

As a country we really do need some innovative solutions to improve our general wellness and, with it, work productivity. Continuing to do the same things and expecting different outcomes is essentially what we’re doing with our inflexible work patterns.

Expecting more and more office workers to cram onto trains, buses, and our road network for a broad 9am to 5pm work day is simply untenable. Yes, we all have the statutory right to request flexible working (after 26 weeks of employment, and only once a year) but, equally, employers have the right to refuse such requests given “a sound business reason”.

How does this compare with Finland? Well, since 1996, most employees there have had the right to adjust their daily hours by up to three hours earlier/later. As of Jan 1st, 2020, they can also (by act of parliament) determine where they work for half of their working hours – the focus has shifted from ‘working place’ to ‘time spent working’ bringing the option of working from home, or wherever, to the employee.

How enlightened!

How much could we reduce traffic, commuter stress and pollution (not to mention increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism and presenteeism) by simply following the lead of the Finns? Dramatically.

A flexible work day would also have many secondary benefits, such as: being there to walk the kids home from school; finding time to fit exercise into our daily routine, both of which would add to our physical and mental well-being.

So, with the benefits to employees, businesses and the government (in the form of higher GDP and lower sick benefit payments), why don’t we do it? We’re only talking about flexibility, not a 3 day week. Imagine the ‘discretionary energy’ unleashed by such a flexible approach to our employees.

Finland, and doubtless the other Nordic nations, has a deep-rooted culture of trust which embraces both individual relationships as well as those between employers and employees. Does that same trust exist in the UK? Given the past three or four years you would have to doubt it currently exists between individuals, or between individuals and the establishment but that should, hopefully, repair given time.

But what about trust between employers and employees? Of course, there are examples of enlightened companies who trust their employees to work flexibly but my sense is that they’re in the minority rather than majority. Please leave a comment below if you agree/disagree.

We did previously cover the issue of trust between employers and employees and, clearly, re-establishing that trust is critical to unleashing the benefits of flexible working.

So, how do we proceed? What can each of us do to turn the tide of mis-trust? We each own our own individual behaviour and, as managers within our own organisations, we can work to make our own managers aware of the benefits of a flexible work culture for employees. It’s very easy to find other companies who are being recognised for their flexible work culture, and to identify the measurable productivity gains arising from such flexible working.

There are major disruptive forces at play in the UK (and global) economy. Almost daily news of High Street retail struggles and banking IT crises highlight just two sectors facing enormous disruptive pressures. Alongside changing consumer behaviour, described as megatrends, many companies across several sectors are facing existential threats which demand that employers and employees stick together and row in the same direction.

That demands trust and the foundation for that trust can be laid with flexible working.

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