Do the Nordic countries have the best working life in Europe?

Researcher Armi Mustosmäki from the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy is interested in the comparative research on working life. In her recent dissertation, Mustosmäki states that the quality of working life in the Nordic countries is better when compared to the rest of the Europe. What kinds of indicators are used to study the quality of working life?

”A variety of indicators are available,” Mustosmäki explains. ”They cover the spectrum from physical working ability to the work’s mental demands and the opportunities to influence available in an organisation. In this study, I mostly concentrated on objective indicators: the employee’s ability to influence the pace and ways of working, opportunities for development and progress, the feeling of increased busyness and the uncertainty related to the employment relationship.”

She says it is always a challenge how data are used and interpreted in research:

­”With subjective indicators, such as occupational wellbeing surveys, it is important to observe the factors behind the results. Otherwise, the results are almost meaningless. Similarly, if something has changed 2% in objective measurements, the researcher should be able to explain its significance somehow.”

Armi Mustosmäki.jpg

The quality of working life also includes one’s salary. According to Mustosmäki, the question of low pay is important and currently relevant for social sciences because political trends are in favour of deregulation. This will probably lead to an increasing amount of jobs that do not pay enough to cover living expenses.

”Working life is not good for all. The division into good and bad jobs is also visible in what kinds of jobs turn up and what kinds disappear. The research suggests the majority of jobs created in the Nordic countries are high salary and high productivity. This is positive in a way, but the flip side is that we lack a labour market for employees with no professional skills.”

Organisation renewals are common in the Nordic countries

The world of work has recently shown a general trend towards streamlining and rationalisation. Research in the European world of work indicates that the Nordic countries seem the most eager to carry out organisational renewals. Mustosmäki says that the renewals in service structures at the University of Jyväskylä are part of this larger development.

”When talking about organisational changes, it is contradictory to talk about institutional structures which make operations rigid. However, no matter how limiting the structures are, they allow a plenty of changes,” she remarks.

Mustosmäki states that structural changes may be connected to the increasing insecurity felt in working life. Many employees are afraid of continuous changes and renewals altering their work, and they feel they no longer control it. It is surprisingly common to have organisational changes in which people need to reapply for their own positions.

It is important for the quality of working life that employees’ expertise is valued.In structural renewals, it should be guaranteed that employees are given leverage and that they are engaged in the process right from the beginning.This usually results in a change that is easier to carry out, Mustosmäki says.

However, it is not always easy to get people to participate in decision-making and discussion – even when such opportunities are offered. People may refuse because, according to Mustosmäki, they feel they have no real opportunity to actually influence the outcome. On the other hand, the fact that universities highlight and reward only certain kinds of productive results may affect the willingness to participate.

Mustosmäki also emphasises the importance of communication when restructuring organisations.

”Things should not be presented to people suddenly and bluntly. It causes unnecessary misunderstandings and confusion. It is worthwhile to put effort into good and informative communication.”