Finns' wellbeing at work has not improved after the coronavirus pandemic


Funded by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland, the 'How is Finland doing?' research project produces information on changes in wellbeing at work and work-related attitudes. The project highlights the development targets and strengths of Finnish working life, on the basis of which recommendations are issued to promote wellbeing at work. The research data was collected in 2019, 2021 and 2023 from employed Finns aged 18–65.

Finns’ wellbeing at work has not returned to the pre-pandemic level, but has weakened slightly in recent years. The employees who responded to the survey felt that their working ability was weaker and that their work engagement was lower in the summer of 2023 than in late 2019.

The risk of burnout affects an increasing number of working Finns, as approximately one in four employees belong to the risk group of burnout. In 2023, the risk group was about five percentage points larger than in 2019. The situation has deteriorated particularly among women. In the summer of 2023, workers with a lower educational background and those under 36 years of age also had the greatest number of people with burnout symptoms. The increase in burnout symptoms applies to the whole society. When comparing to the time before the coronavirus pandemic, each level of education now has fewer people without burnout symptoms.

Burnout symptoms among women have increased

Women's wellbeing at work has deteriorated in recent years. For women, work engagement increased from 2019 to 2021, but decreased between 2021 and 2023. For men, work engagement has decreased from 2019 to 2023. For women, work-related boredom has increased from 2021 to 2023. Working ability has deteriorated in women and men.

Differences in wellbeing at work are explained by the gender bias of sectors and working conditions. Women felt more opportunities to learn new things in their work than men and felt that their own work had positive impacts on others, which promoted the engagement of work. Still, women reported, more than men, that they have to show feelings that do not correspond to their real feelings, i.e. that they do emotional work, which is typical in working with people. In addition, women have too many work tasks and are more likely to work while ill. For these reasons, burnout symptoms among women have increased. In particular, cynicism towards work and cognitive disorders have increased.

The level of education affects experiences of wellbeing at work

Burnout experiences have increased at all levels of education. In the study, the number of respondents saying "no burnout" decreased from 2019 to 2023. Those with a middle level education had the greatest increase in burnout experiences.

The lower the level of education of the respondents was, the lower the reported average number of positive factors that promote wellbeing at work was. The work of those with a lower level of education is less independent and there are no opportunities for learning new things. In addition, the congruence between one's own values and the values of the work, as well as the sense of community, were weaker. Compared to people with a higher level of education, those with a lower level of education felt that their work had less of a positive impact on other people. In the case of those with a lower level of education, fair treatment at work was also not realised, and the work tasks were not considered challenging enough.

Higher-educated people feel better at work, because they can work more independently, learn new things, and perform tasks that are challenging enough. However, higher education is linked to conflicts between work and private life, which may explain, together with the nature of knowledge work, the increased cognitive disorders of those with higher education.

Young adults' work engagement and working ability have continued to decline

According to the study, young age is linked to poorer wellbeing at work in several ways. The decline in wellbeing at work among those under the age of 36, meaning those defined as young adults in the study, has stabilised slightly in recent years, but the situation is still worse than in 2019. Among young adults, job satisfaction has increased slightly and returned to the pre-pandemic level, but work engagement and working ability in particular have continued to deteriorate in recent years. The symptoms of burnout among young adults have not increased since 2021, but they are still more common than before the coronavirus pandemic. The health of young adults has also deteriorated, and they feel more lonely than before.

There are several reasons for the poorer wellbeing of young adults in working life. Younger respondents reported the least positive work resources that could promote wellbeing at work. They reported a lack of experiences of learning new things, sufficiently challenging tasks, and positive assessments of their own competence. They also find their work, on average, less compatible with their own values and find it difficult to see the positive results of their work. Then again, young adults report more satisfaction with their immediate superiors and the amount of work they do.

All forms of work have their advantages and risks to wellbeing at work

Until now, it has appeared that wellbeing at work is best supported by hybrid work, meaning partial remote work. Now the differences have evened out: full-time remote workers' wellbeing shows some positive development, whereas in hybrid work, work engagement has decreased to the same level as in full-time remote work. However, in hybrid work, health and satisfaction with life have remained at the 2021 level, while in remote and non-remote work they have decreased.

The wellbeing at work of non-remote workers has deteriorated since 2021. Non-remote work reports more chronic work fatigue and burnout risks than other forms of work, but less cognitive disorders. Meanwhile, the least chronic fatigue is experienced in remote work. This is explained by the fact that remote work is less physically straining, and there is less need to show feelings that do not correspond to one's actual feelings at work. However, in remote work, loneliness and experiences of boredom are more common than in hybrid and non-remote work. The greater boredom in remote work may be partly due to the fact that the work is not considered as significant.

Working conditions can be improved in many ways

The report contains several recommendations for employers to improve Finns' wellbeing at work.

  • Providing opportunities for employees to learn and develop in sufficiently challenging tasks. 
  • Paying attention to the positive impacts of the work and sharing successes in joint meetings. 
  • Building a sense of community that includes fair and appreciative treatment.  
  • Practising open communication, listening to others and applying the rules consistently. 
  • Developing the work together and organising the workload evenly. 
  • Appreciating workers, encouraging them to exploit their abilities, and giving credit for actions. 
  • Establishing practices that promote work-private life balance. 

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How is Finland doing? (