The first day at a Finnish office

Finland is too accustomed to homogeneity. And while I am not an advocate of pluralism in the sense of neglecting traditions and cultural values, it is indisputable that increasing international competition does not leave much room for deliberation when it comes to attracting and retaining foreign professionals, in order to remain competitive.

The need to attract the most qualified human capital internationally, as a means of sustainable competitiveness, is crystal clear. No country today can afford ignorance in this regard. Business leaders should not only leave behind any reluctance to attract professionals internationally, they actually have to be two steps ahead of that. It is high time to push for changes with the government and administration to make the process of hiring internationally qualified professionals easier. As of right now I know too many instances where companies faced simply too much unnecessary trouble in jumping all administrative hurdles.

And there are more issues to be addressed. Some of them can be found in Finnish culture. Just as an example I would like to refer to the “valuing of privacy” or “personal space”. This aspect of Finnish culture entails respect for others and a solid sense of freedom. When it comes to integrating foreigners this can however be rather problematic. I recall my first day at a Finnish office. Doing the usual round to greet all my new colleagues, I expected the usual ritual: smiling, small talk and the like. That is not what happened. There was little smiling and essentially no small talk and so my immediate reaction was that my colleagues did not really want me there. It took me a moment of serious reflection on what I had learned about Finnish culture to make sense of what had happened. They actually did not dislike me. They just did not automatically resort to small talk.

That experience sounds trivial but without awareness of cultural differences, experiences like that can have a detrimental impact on the motivation of foreign professionals. It is but a glimpse at a serious challenge. Finnish businesses need to understand the complexities that arise in the context of internationalization and the resulting intercultural partnerships. All of us, unconsciously, take on general convictions, rituals and symbols, as well as behavioral patterns that are distinct to our own culture and professional context. Figuratively speaking, we perceive everything through a set of glasses, filtering and rearranging all impressions. Without sufficient help to understand cultural differences we are bound to misjudge.

Business leaders need to actively bridge both administrational and cultural gaps. There is no more time for lengthy discussions. The competitiveness of businesses and with that the Finnish economy will suffer, unless leaders actively lobby for easier access to the Finnish employment market and educate themselves and others to appreciate cultural differences.

Joachim Delventhal is an EVA Junior Fellow 2010. He is currently enrolled in a joined Masters Programme (in International Law and Economics) at the University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen Business School. Aside from his studies he is working as an external consultant for the OSCE in the context of Human Trafficking. Joachim is involved in a start-up firm, specializing in intercultural communication in Finland.