A look behind Finland’s job market

six-weeks vacation, decent working hours, and a stress free work environment Finland has created sounds great right? Unfortunately, the reality has become quite different. Unpaid overtime, extended work weeks, and never ending trial periods are a recent and growing phenomenon in Finland.

Before coming to Finland I had a decent degree and some work experience in IT. At this point all that is a bit stale given my choice to hang around here. Here I had worked for Itella (Posti) for quite some time delivering the morning news. Hands down one of the best jobs I’ve had in my life, good hours, easy going boss, decent pay and incredible benefits. Though at some point you do want to make use of all those degrees and certifications. Yet, as the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Going around to job fairs and poking around linkedin I finally snagged a couple of interviews.

The first job, right in my field was out in western Finland. I got an offer with the stipulation of an initial trial period consisting of four months of mandatory overtime. Overtime was built into the salary, making the hourly rate dismal. digging around a little deeper led me to find out that this position had been posted about every four months (the length of the contract). Checking out previous employees linkedin and facebook pages I found that this didn’t seem to be an ideal place to be. Quotes such as “good riddance to (company)” or “finally out of (company).” The high turnover, and abundant employee disapproval combined with what would be an expensive move for the low salary simply did not make sense.

The second interview had been for a start-up. Innovative, energetic, and full of “passion,” right? I was given a programming task to complete in two weeks with a language I had never dealt with. A challenge I was up to. I did it in half a week. Great, so maybe you can get this next more rigorous task complete by the same deadline? I Head to the library to download the  software I needed. Back home, laying on the floor of an empty apartment for hours on end I did the best that I could. I couldn’t do it. The program did work, but the solution I had created was not quite complete. It seemed hopeful, but rejected soon enough, and onto the next interview.

Yet another start-up. Interviews with start-ups tend to be very similar in discussion. I assume it’s because similar ideas are being thrown around at incubators, conferences, or from investors. The usual questioning of skills followed by questions concerning your “startup mentality” and  “passion.” The problem I’ve found with “passion” is that it is not so much as about the skill or enjoyment of work, but it often leads to discussions of lower pay and extended hours.

When you are looking for a job, you play along, I think most of us do. I got the job. But let’s be honest. I enjoy cooking. Last night I made two cheese cakes. My reward? The task and the dessert. Yet if you were to ask me to make these cheese cakes for you, it would instantly become work.

Within a week I wanted to leave. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t use to office life. It was every Dilbert comic brought to life. I’d go home after work to google a quote, and sure enough I could find at least one comic strip representative of the day. The position itself was not really an IT position. I had been given a list of companies to call, and I would call. No one really seems to like to receive cold calls, and there are plenty of people out there that will let you know so. It was not long before I came to dread the job, every call was just a game of roulette. Partly because I never knew who I was calling, if I could ever weed myself into talking to the right person, or if anyone was actually willing to talk.

But as disappointing as it was, the biggest pressure came from level of micromanagement that existed alongside the expectation to create content after finishing the work day. The most uncomfortable moment had been was being asked whether I had kids that would get in the way, in order to judge whether I was up for the challenge. But what can you say? Work is scarce, so you tend not to challenge what would normally be an inappropriate question.

At this point I had already made the commitment to push through, to get through the temporary contract. My pay was crummy, working twice the hours I did delivering papers for half the pay. At times even less than that.

Yet, a job is a job, and like any other, I would suck it up and do it to the best of my ability.
I will say this, we had a good team, great coworkers. Unfortunately it was easy to see the team go through similar frustrations as I was going through, and for what? The rough market.

I complain to my friends, family, etc. All understood the situation. I’ve got friends going through never ending internships, bussed around workplace to workplace to keep from moving into a permanent contract. Another complains as he is pushed to stand around day in and day out at 12 hours a day with not a single mention of overtime. His fear to speak out comes from the multitude of unpaid interns ready to jump at his position. These are not small companies, but IT positions for Finland’s industry giants.

No question that our small company had a great product, I would vouch for it any day. Yet, the work culture was not something I could adapt to. I would do my best to stick to no more than an eight-hour work day, while coworkers would push through 10-12 hour days. This in turn would translate into less “passion” or “motivation.” It is not something I was ever comfortable with.

Nearing the end of the contract I had finally been given a task of interest, and I went through it as best I could.

Of course, at the time of contract renewal I knew I had to leave. I would say it was due to work culture, but when work culture pushes people beyond their limits it’s an entirely different issue. It’s not like there was much on offer anyway. It would have been an extended trial. Same offer, same environment.

So what now? Still looking around while trying to grab odd jobs, and hoping to try my luck at setting up a small business. Leaving a steady income means there will be rough times ahead. Was it the right decision? It was a tough one. Figuring out how to pay the rent come next month will be the first challenge. Let’s see how this goes.

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