Do Finnish and Japanese working lives have anything in common?

Jessica de Bloom

Jessica de Bloom

Finnish and Japanese working lives differ in many ways. Whereas the average Finn works a little less than forty hours per week, many Japanese workers put in sixty hours or more. For them, overtime is the rule rather than the exception.

Furthermore, Japanese work culture is more hierarchical than its Finnish counterpart. This also plays a role in making the working week longer; in Japan, you cannot leave work before your boss, and all working relationships are formal.

However, what Finland and Japan do have in common is that work is currently undergoing a transformation, and this is more of a shock for the Japanese than it is for Finns.

“Employment contracts have traditionally been permanent in Japan. People usually work for the same employer for decades, but now this is changing. Temporary employment is also increasing in Japan and, as there is not much of a culture of changing jobs, termination of employment is even harder for the Japanese than it is for the Finns,” says Academy of Finland Senior Research Fellow Jessica de Bloom from the University of Tampere, who is an expert on well-being at work.

De Bloom is currently starting a Finnish-Japanese research project that will analyse the ways Finnish and Japanese workers spend their leisure time outside work. The objective is to investigate how people construct their leisure in order to make it meaningful and significant. Do they look to satisfy their psychological needs outside employment, or does work dominate their lives? Are there differences between Finland and Japan?
Exactly the same type of data will be collected from both countries using three surveys conducted at three month intervals.

The data collection will not be without its challenges.

“Just the definition of ‘leisure’ is puzzling in the Japanese case. There is very little free time, especially for women, who both actively work and bear the responsibility for practically all housework and childcare. What does leisure mean when you come home from work to take care of the children, cook dinner, wash the dishes and do the laundry?“ de Bloom asks.

The research, which is funded by the Academy of Finland, will be conducted from 2017 to 2022.
Japanese and Finnish researchers have also planned other forms of cooperation related to working life phenomena. Experts of working life research met with researchers in psychology, medicine and economics at the University of Tampere in September. The plan is to join forces in order to investigate sustainable occupational health and its preconditions.

“We want to study what makes people sick in working life and how that could be prevented. The question is how we should design work so that it can support health,” de Bloom says.

Possible future projects may include, for example, examining the association between the hours worked and productivity, or the way ageing populations manage the boundaries and bridges between different life domains.

“Japan and Finland are in a very similar situation with regard to ageing, and both will have to solve major societal challenges in the near future,” de Bloom points out.

There are also other things in common. De Bloom, who is German, recently visited Japan and found some similarities between the Finnish and Japanese cultures and mentalities.

“Both cultures appreciate small, simple things, such as the beauty of nature. What is also common is a certain modesty, diligence and reliability. The Japanese can also enjoy the silence and prefer to keep quiet when they don’t have anything pertinent to say,” de Bloom says.

Text: Hanna Hyvärinen
Photograph: Ron Voss