In this article, I am going to compare work culture and office environment in Finland and Russia. This comparison is based on my own work experience in both countries; therefore it might be subjective at some point. Also, office culture may vary significantly in different industries and different parts of the country (especially if we are talking about Russia). I lived and worked in Saint Petersburg, the most European city in Russia, located in only 200 kilometres from Finland. However, some differences in business and work environment are quite significant despite small distance between the two countries.
Regular working weeks are 40 hours long, 8 hours per day both in Finland and Russia. Finnish collective agreements quite often provide for shorter hours of work – 7.5 daily hours including a 30-minutes lunch break.
One of the most challenging parts of work in Finland for me was the starting time of 8 a.m. Most of the offices in Russia begin at 9 or 10 a.m., so two hours difference was quite difficult in the beginning. On the other hand, Finnish working day end earlier as well – usually around 4 pm (against 6 or 7 p.m. in Russia).
I found office routines in Russia quite similar to those in Finland. However, once I worked for a Russian company with a so-called “Soviet working style”. Ladies in my department were starting their working day with doing their hair and makeup. Then they drank tea and discussed the latest news. Only after this morning ritual they proceeded to their duties. Luckily this kind of work behaviour is rare nowadays though it was an interesting experience.
Most of the Russian companies operate a “smart business” or “business casual” dress code. Few years ago online media published the internal dress code rules for female employees at one the biggest Russian gas companies. The 17-page document provided a recommendation on clothing brands, haircut styles and even nails length. For instance, the employee should never appear at work with long loose hair, wear bright-coloured blouse and shoes or have drop earrings.
I’ve never worked for a company with such harsh restrictions. The last company I worked for allowed “Casual Fridays”; previous ones were more conservative and required wearing a suit. However, I felt much more comfortable in Finland, where the dress code was rather unostentatious. I have seen quite a lot of Finns wearing sport jackets and jeans in the office. In general I would describe Finnish dress code as a casual and smart without being too “flashy”.
Russian management style is quite formal and directive. Companies often tend to be driven by one “big boss”, while middle management has very little real power. Superior-subordinate communication is downwards and formal. Subordinates usually should not address their manager with “you” (singular form – peculiarities of Russian grammar), unless it is allowed to do so.
Finnish organisations have flat and loose structure rather than hierarchical. Communication between a manager and a subordinate is much more informal than in Russia. You can address to your manager or even CEO using his / her first name. Finns prefer to work out in teams, though independence and individuality are also highly appreciated (and expected as well).
No matter in which country you live, your working hours are owned by the company. Therefore, use of mobile phone or the internet for personal use is not welcomed.
Communication between colleagues is usually open both in Russia and Finland. However, in Finland people are quite reserved. They value their personal integrity and are not fond of talking to strangers. My Russian colleagues were much chattier, so making conversations with co-workers in Finland felt quite difficult in the beginning (partially also because of the language barrier). But once ice was broken, I could see how friendly Finns are. However, be prepared for silent pauses in conversations –it is one of the aspects of social interaction in Finnish culture.
Amenities and benefits
Nowadays most of the offices have the same amenities worldwide: water, coffee machine, refrigerator etc. As I mentioned in my previous article, in Finland employees are entitled to two coffee breaks a day, during which they sit together in a canteen or in a meeting room. In Russia, I had never had such kind of breaks. During the work day, an employee can make tea or coffee for himself and drink it at his own desk.
Employee benefits in Russia and Finland are quite different and depend on the size of the company. For example, Russian companies quite often provide dental and health insurance to their employees. According to my experience, this kind of benefits is not too popular in Finland (but I only worked for quite a small company). On the other hand, Finnish employees are entitled to such benefit as an “exercise voucher”. Half of this voucher is paid by the employer and another half – by the employee himself. You can use them as a payment method for your exercise facilities such as gym, swimming pool, tennis, yoga etc. Vouchers are beneficial for both parties: they have tax-exempt status for the company and employees can save up to 200€ per year on their sports activities.
The choice is yours
My work experience did teach me a lot: to appreciate different cultures, to adapt to changes and to compromise. I could say that in general working rhythm in Finland was more relaxing and it was easier to find a work-life balance there. In Russia I often dealt with strict deadlines, which were stressful, on the other hand, they helped me to organise my work schedule more effectively and plan my duties more carefully.
I was not a fan of the dress code and an organisation hierarchy, but in large companies it might be unavoidable. As for management style, quite a lot of young Russian manager nowadays are influenced by western business culture, so lots of things have changed since I moved from Russia.
It might sound like a cliché, but if you are going to work in a new country, try to learn as much as you can about its culture and nuances. Remain open-minded and positive – your new colleagues will definitely respect it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Guest Columnist at MissCareerLess
Polina Kalvarskaya was born and raised in Russia. She studied Economics at Saint-Petersburg State University. Six years ago Polina moved to Finland, where she studied Business Administration at Lahti University of Applied Sciences and worked as an export assistant for a small company. Four months ago she moved to the Netherlands and currently settling down here. Besides writing she enjoys drawing, jogging and sci-fi (especially Star Wars). Polina is an optimist and believes that there are only good things ahead.