Happiness – And Working The Nordic Way Speech by Ambassador Juha Pyykkö

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends of the Nordics,

I am honoured and happy to have the opportunity to give this keynote address titled ‘Happiness – and Working the Nordic Way’ at this event by the Nordic Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines – Nordcham. In the next 15 minutes or so, I will approach the realm of working life from the point of happiness – to start with – followed by reflections on some fundamental aspects of working life in Finland.

As I am the Ambassador of Finland, the foundation of the points I will make is in the Finnish experience but naturally they depict the salient features of working life in the Nordic countries in general. I hope that these reflections increase your career interests in the Nordics, encourage you to spread the word about these issues in your current work places, and provide a relevant foundation for interventions and debate at this event.


Dear Friend of the Nordics,

As you probably now, this year Finland ranked the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row amongst some 149 countries by the annual World Happiness Report. Other Nordic countries continue to rank high, as well. This report is produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and it uses data from surveys on more than 350 000 people in 95 countries. And again, as we all know, in the pursuit of happiness there is no manual and no definitive measure of achievement.

In this report, issues like GDP, healthy life expectancy and corruption – or rather lack of it – are measured. The survey for this report furthermore asked respondents to indicate, for example, how much social support they can rely on if something goes wrong in life, how secure they feel in their lives, whether they feel they have the freedom to make their own life choices and how generous they are.

As for Finland specifically, my native country is renowned for our excellent public school system, universal healthcare and egalitarian culture. Sense of equality is embedded in our society though we too have still a way to go to realize gender equality. Social mobility is possible and encouraged. Finland is not a hierarchical society – rather we tend to be pragmatic and practical. All this as I see is the basis for happiness.

Nature is important to us – and we have a lot of wilderness in Finland! Furthermore, the manner in which the covid pandemic has been managed in Finland probably cemented our high position in this survey. And, you know, we Finns tend to embrace depictions of ourselves as melancholic and reserved – a people who mastered social distancing long before the pandemic.

To an extent, the Finnish character itself might help explain why our country keeps leading this index: As a leading Finnish philosopher, Mr. Esa Saarinen put it: Finns tend to be kind of content on some level at being just what we are. We don’t really have to be more. Life is not all about career and or money, for example. Family and friends matter. Hobbies and other possibilities to realize oneself are important. It is the attitude, I guess. And – we are not too fussed about the whole honour of being the happiest place as such.

Overall - the notion of trust is high and felt important in highly ranking happy societies; a sense of community and social responsibility and a feeling of togetherness at the personal level; trust amongst public institutions and the public at large at the level of society. This sense of trust and social responsibility runs thru the political spectrum in Finland and other Nordic countries.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It might have occurred strange that I started with reflections on happiness and now link it to working life. What does happiness have to do with working life? Well – everything, I think. We spend more than a third of our regular days working – and we should stay happy about it!

Happiness, I see it, is not a grande scheme of my life but rather a mosaic of small things. Happiness in general, in many ways, is an enabler for wellbeing and success in working life. Having said that, it is self-evident to conclude that many of the various aspects of happiness as experienced in Finland are part and parcel of working life in Finland as well as in other Nordic countries.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Characteristics that are appreciated and valued in Finland include honesty, punctuality and equality. This is seen in Finnish culture in general, including in working life. I will briefly flag four features of Finnish and more broadly Nordic working life that I think have proved to be fundamental in the success of Nordic welfare societies and that I hope are of relevance to further development of working life culture here in the Philippines, as well.

Firstly, although a lot in our Nordic societies is based on soft regulation and recommendations, it has been deemed necessary and relevant since long that the basic framework in working life is based on legislation. This reflects the importance of this issue as such as well as the importance of rule of law; Denmark, Norway and Finland recently ranked highest in the global index of rule of law.

Labour law is an important part of our legal system and it specifies regulations that the employees and the employers have to comply with. The labour code and the collective labour agreements define, for example, minimum wages, working time, paid vacation, sick leave salaries and conditions for layoff.

In Finland, an employee has the right to, for example, remuneration in accordance with the collective agreement and other minimum provisions, the protection provided by acts and contracts, join a union, and a healthy and safe working environment. At the same time, an employee has the obligation to perform his or her work carefully, observe the agreed-upon working hours, follow the instructions of the management, decline from activities which compete with those of the employer, keep business and trade secrets, and take into account the employer’s interests.

Work life balance is an increasingly important topic in the Nordic countries. In 2019, the Finnish capital Helsinki was ranked the best city in the world for work life balance. Mutual trust and a pragmatic way of looking at things have enabled Finland and other Nordic countries to make our working environments flexible, based on flexible regulation.

In practice, good work life balance can mean, among other things, remote work, work contracts that allow work times that are 50 % or 75 % of the normal work time and flexible working times. Different remote work schemes have been familiar for Finns already for many years and therefore it was not difficult to adjust to different work modes necessitated by Covid-19. Flexible working hours as a rule seem to improve well-being of employees and also boost creativity and productivity. All in all, flexibility and good work life balance make people happy.

Secondly, equality and equal opportunities are very important building blocks of Finnish and Nordic working life. Equal treatment of all people is guaranteed by the Constitution of Finland. This entails that all people are equal regardless of their sex, age, ethnic or national origin, nationality, language, religion or beliefs, opinion, disability, health, sexual orientation or any other circumstance connected to the person.

Issues on equality in working life are enacted in the Finnish Equality Act and Employment Contracts Act. They state that employees must be treated equally as regards employment, working conditions, conditions of employment, staff training and career advancement. As in other Nordic countries, as well – all kind of discrimination in working life and at work places is forbidden. It is a specific responsibility of the employer to ensure that gender equality and equal opportunities are realized at the work place.

In terms of equality in recruitment, the Finnish Equality Act, as mentioned earlier, provides that job seekers are treated equally. An employer shall choose the most distinguished applicant for the task. The employer must also be able to prove that the choice is justified on acceptable grounds related to the nature of the work and that the choice was not made on discriminatory bases. Qualities that are not necessary for the performance of the tasks must not be required of job seekers.

At the workplace, an employer shall not discriminate against employees when making decisions about the distribution of tasks, offering advancement opportunities or terminating a contract of employment. Discrimination at work is a crime. In Finland, if you suspect that you have been the object of discrimination at work, you can contact the occupational safety and health authorities or your own trade union.

According to Finnish law, men and women are equal. Men and women must be treated equally in employment, working conditions and remuneration. An employee must not be set in an unequal position in working life due to pregnancy or parenthood. The Finnish Act on Equality between Women and Men stipulates that an employer shall supervise that gender equality is realised and that nobody is discriminated against at the workplace. An Equality Ombudsman monitors that this Act is observed. Subsidised childcare for all and shared and paid parental leave have meant that women’s participation in the workforce in the Nordic countries is almost as high as men’s.

As said before, though we have made great progress over the years, there is still room to improve gender equality in Finnish working life: Although employment rates of women and men are very close to each other, on average, women more often work in not so well paid professions than men. We still have typical women’s jobs (eg. health care) and men’s jobs (eg. engineering). Segregation of labor market continues to be a problem. The gender disparity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is worrying as these careers are often referred to as being the careers of the future. So, more needs to be done to improve participation of girls and women in technology education and careers.

In this sphere, Finland is also working very much internationally. Finland is one of the co-leaders in a process called “Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality”. This Generation Equality is coordinated by UN Women. At this juncture, I am proud to mention that Finland just got elected, on 14 October, to the UN Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024. One principal theme in our campaign and now our membership in the Council is gender equality. As a member of the Council, Finland will “work to build a world where women and girls of all abilities and ages can fully enjoy their rights.”

In terms of business life, Finland still has too few women in top business positions even though the number of women directors in business is among the highest in the world. Of all management positions in public and private sectors women have around 1/3. The higher up in the organization you go, the likelier it is that you will find men having top positions. Women also work more often than men in part-time jobs.

Government gender equality actions plans have had since 2004 objectives for women’s employment in state-owned or controlled companies. As a result of that, more than 40 % of the members of the boards in these companies are women (more than publicly listed companies, 29 %, which also have state-controlled companies. Target is to have also this to 40 %).

Another positive example we can find in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. Around 20 years ago, in 2000, only 10 % of all Finnish ambassadors were women. Today the figure is 48 %. I am very happy to see that it might be the trend in other countries, as well. These positive improvements I just mentioned have happened on the basis of self-regulation and recommendations. We do not have quotas for different genders in these top positions.

Thirdly, at a Nordic workplace, the supervisor or the superior – the boss - is not constantly monitoring and controlling employees in their work. There is a culture of asking everybody’s opinions, and these different opinions are taken into account when planning the work. Tasks are talked about and agreed upon in joint meetings involving everyone.

After the distribution of tasks among employees as mutually agreed upon, the superior expects the employee to decide upon the details of carrying out the task. Sense of own initiative, responsibility and accountability are expected and cherished. If need be, the employee can ask instructions directly from other employees or the superior. Communications culture and style is nowadays rather informal, pragmatic and straightforward.

And fourthly, reliability and loyalty are highly appreciated in Nordic working life: It is important that all, both employers and employees, stick to what has been agreed upon together. The fundamental assumption is that everybody does as has been mutually agreed.


Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends of the Nordics,

Happiness is not the final destination, it is a journey. Likewise and in the same spirit, Nordic working life and culture is not a perfect end result but rather a constant evolution and work in progress. Being happy in life gives one the optimal ingredients to be successful in working life – whatever that means to us as different individuals. I guess, and being allowed to be oneself.


Thank you for your attention.