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Work matters are spilling over into free time more often in Finland than elsewhere in Europe

Twitterissä: @HannaSutela
Kuva: Kari Likonen

The ad hoc module of the Labour Force Survey for 2019 included a question about whether the respondent has been contacted in matters concerning work during the past two months outside working hours – and if so, whether the contacts required direct action during the same day. The data were collected in all European countries.

Finland stood out as the country with the most and most frequent contacts of this kind. Only close on one-third (30%) of Finnish employed persons had completely avoided being disturbed by work-related matters during free time. In the EU, the average share of people escaping that was double (59%).

The closest to Finland was Sweden, where 38 per cent of employed persons were not contacted like that. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Has been contacted about work-related matters outside working hours in the past two months, employed persons aged 15 to 74 by country in 2019,%
Figure about persons who Have been contacted about work-related matters outside working hours in the past two months, employed persons aged 15 to 74 by country in 2019,%
Source: Eurostat

Nearly one in four (23%) of Finnish employed persons said they had been contacted several times concerning work during their free time in the past couple of months in matters that had required direct action from them. This was more than in any other EU country.

In addition, 13 per cent of Finns had been contacted many times even though they had not been expected to react immediately. One third had been contacted once or twice.

Understandably self-employed persons had been contacted more than wage and salary earners, highly educated more often than people with lower level of education both in Finland and on the EU level.

However, the exceptional nature of Finland is illustrated by the fact that even manual workers have been disturbed by work matters during free time more often than all employed persons on the EU level, on average. On the EU level, the figures concerning self-employed persons are slightly behind the Finnish average describing all employed persons as concerns the generality of contacts.

Nearly one-half of wage and salary earners in Finland read work email on their holidays

These questions that ended up in Eurostat's Labour Force Survey came from the questionnaire of Statistics Finland's Quality of Work Life Survey 2013.

When we were planning the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey, we found the questions fairly outdated. We did not feel that their one-way approach any more describes the reality of the present day– as if employees were waiting passively at home for contacts from the workplace that will or will not come.

Along with the digitalisation of working life, mixing of work and free time is more often a two-way process. Especially for an information worker, matters concerning work easily follow along anywhere through the smartphone beeping in one’s pocket, at any time of the day. Work emails and Teams messages are read and answered even if that is not actually required by anyone. Likewise, we tweet and use the social media, share the ideas that have popped into our heads at once with our closest co-workers.

In the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey, we added questions on reading of work email during holiday instead of the old questions about contacts.

It appeared that nearly one-half of Finnish employees at least peek at their emails during their holiday. Around 40 per cent do not read their work email at all on holiday, and 15 per cent do not have any work email. (Figure 2)

Fifteen per cent of wage and salary earners on holiday read their email daily or almost daily. In addition, every fifth checks their work emails at least once a week. Frequent browsing of emails is more typical for men than women.

Figure 2. Reading of work email on holiday, wage and salary earners aged 15 to 67 by sex,%
Figure about persons Reading work email on holiday, wage and salary earners aged 15 to 67 by sex,%
Source: Statistics Finland, Quality of Work Life Survey 2018

Upper-level salaried employees in particular cannot go without checking their emails. In practice, all of them had access to email in 2018, and a majority (75%) browsed it even during their holidays. Every fourth (25%) read their email daily or almost daily. Work email was followed most avidly by managers, business and administration professionals, and natural sciences and technology professionals.

By contrast, good 40 per cent of lower-level salaried employees read work email during holiday time – although seven per cent had no work email at all.

Nearly 40 per cent of manual workers did not even have work email. One in four (26%) read their email during their holiday at least occasionally.

Those who read their work email at least once a week on holiday were further asked why they followed their email so closely. The respondent could choose several reply alternatives.

Although reading of work email during holidays is common, only six per cent of all wage and salary earners reported that they were expected to follow their email. The most common reason for reading email at least weekly was that they wanted to keep up with work matters (23% of all wage and salary earners). This was clearly more common for men than for women.

Altogether 15 per cent said the reason was trying to manage their workload in this way. Some wage and salary earners can therefore feel that this is a workable strategy for avoiding chaos after returning from their holiday. For others, the balancing of work and other life means that the holiday is protected entirely from work.

It is, however, descriptive for the social media age that nearly every sixth (16%) male wage and salary earner and every tenth female one (13% both sexes) said they read their email on holiday at least weekly because checking email had become a habit.

Following work email intensively on holiday and the top position in the EU comparison in dealing with matters at work during free time reveal the same story of the presumably typically Finnish way of mixing of work and free time. At the same time, they also reflect the tightening pace of our working life.

The results are complemented by information that, by European comparison, our working hours are exceptionally flexible (LINK to Pera's article) and that remote work became more common in Finland in the corona spring than in any other European country.

Therefore, it would require a whole new blog to consider which cultural, structural and general matters related to the present state of Finnish working life affect the special characteristics of Finns in the overlapping of work and free time as well.


The author is Senior Researcher at Statistics Finland's Information and Statistical Services.

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