Attitudes and values form the basis of any culture reflecting the ways people think and behave. Knowledge of these can therefore be of significant importance in communicating effectively with your counterparts. Ignorance of these issues can result in a cultural barrier that may inhibit the communication process, and have a negative effect on the success of your activities.
Finns are considered modest, honest and reliable. They place great value on words and mean what they say. “Take a bull by its horns and a man by his word” is an old Finnish saying. A Finn’s ‘yes’ is a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ is never a ‘perhaps’. Finnish frankness may seem a bit daunting but their way of communicating is upfront and uncomplicated, which is rather refreshing.
In business meetings Finns take punctuality very seriously and expect you to do likewise; call to explain if you will be more than five minutes late.
The main values of Finns are as follows: modesty, working at a measured pace, honesty, reliability, a respect for traditions and customs, strength, silence, democracy, independence, resourcefulness, bravery, diligence, sensitivity and cleanliness.
Corporate social responsibility
Finns have a great love for their beautiful natural environment. The transition from an agricultural economy has been very fast and quite late compared to many other western societies. Therefore, many people who live in towns today come originally from the country side and still visit their old hometowns regularly where they have a holiday home. There are some 450,000 holiday homes dotted around Finland, typically beside lakes or the sea, or on islands. The Finns’ deep sense of connectedness to nature is also partly intertwined with their need for solitude. For many Finns the forest or sea is a place for peace and solace.
The State has traditionally taken responsibility for addressing social and environmental issues. And Finland has shown leadership in this, with a particularly good record in recycling waste paper, cardboard and drinks containers. An efficient system encouraging the re-use of bottles through returnable deposits has been operating in Finland for decades, with recovery rates in recent years of 97-98 %. However, this kind of mentality towards social issues, where responsibility for social and environmental issues has rested on the State’s shoulders, has been replaced by a new mentality, where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is all about understanding sustainability comprehensively. When it comes to Finnish companies, they have in many ways been relatively progressive when it comes to CSR and use it as a competitive advantage. Many have gone beyond the requirements of legislation and have increased their focus on stakeholder views.
Currently, the areas that are being prioritized in the Finnish CSR dialogue are environmental and climate change, cultural adaptation, competitiveness, ethical consumption and employment practices. When compared to other European countries, Finland’s record on CSR issues is promising, with high scores in codes of conduct, sustainability reporting, adopting management standards, explicit value statements and so on. A major driving force for fostering CSR issues in Finland is legislation, as businesses derive the framework for their operations from the legal framework the government provides. The government’s legal framework for CSR activities encompasses things such as standards for environmental protection, social security, employment and accounting. International initiatives such as the ILO principles, OECD guidelines and the UN Global Compact are also supported and furthered by the government. However, the government stresses the voluntary nature of CSR activities.
The main challenge for CSR in Finland is to ensure Finnish industries’ competitiveness in an environment where much of production is relocated to low-cost countries, and to ensure steady employment and job security for the young generation whilst managing demographic change as Finland becomes more ethnically diverse. Environmental issues also present some challenges as cutting green house gases is high on Finland’s priority list, but the cold climate and long travelling distances do not create the most favorable environment for doing this.
Finns endeavour to make productive use of their time. They follow timetables and other plans faithfully and expect the same of others. Being late is considered very rude. This pertains both to business and social occasions. If you are running more than five minutes late for a meeting or a dinner, you should call ahead and apologize.
Meetings are expected to start and end at the agreed. Finns are also well prepared for meetings so much of the work is done in advance. Although Finns are careful with the groundwork, they still often make decisions quickly. They are known for not asking many questions and so you should be prepared to give such an extensive presentation that there will be no need for complementary questions. This also makes time management easier.
When invited to a private home, it’s polite to bring a small gift with you. Some safe options for gifts are chocolates, wine and flowers but avoid giving white and yellow flowers as they are common at funerals and as potted plants.
In business meetings it is uncommon to exchange gifts. However after successful negotiations it is acceptable to give small gifts, such as glass, books, local gifts or liquor. When giving gifts you should be careful to make sure that these are not too valuable so that they cannot be interpreted as bribes.
Business dress code
Business attire is stylish and conservative in Finland. Men should wear business suits and women should choose skirt suits, trouser suits, or dresses. For dinner, dress formally if no other dress code is given.
There are distinctive seasonal variations in the climate of Finland. The winters are cold (-30 degrees Celsius at times) and the summers relatively warm (up to +30 degrees Celsius). The temperatures also vary considerably between the north and south. For example a 20-30 degree variation in the temperature between southern and northern Finland at the same point in time is not unusual. In the northernmost parts of the country, the sun does not set at all for a couple of months in summer (midnight sun/white nights) and in winter it does not rise for a couple of months (polar night). Rainfall is present throughout the year with snow in winter, but the low humidity often has the effect of making it seem warmer than the temperature would indicate.
It is advisable to take some waterproof clothing with you throughout the year. In order to keep your feet dry, you should take additional outdoor footwear with you. It is quite common for women to change their outdoor shoes to something more elegant once inside.
Bribery and corruption
The Nordic countries are advanced, affluent societies – some would call them enlightened – with a system of education and welfare, and an underlying ethic of honest toil that together mitigate against corruption. In the global Corruption Perception Index released annually by Transparency International, Finland has been ranked either first (5 times) or second (4 times) since 1997. In smallish, well ordered countries, such as Finland, corruption among officials and politicians is less likely to flourish than in poor or transitional nations.
Where gifts are exchanged as mentioned above, they should not be of too high of value in order to avoid them being interpreted as a bribe. Both giving and accepting a bribe is considered a criminal act under the Criminal Code. Money, jewellery, household and other equipment, special or low interest loans, trips etc. can be defined as bribes. Honorary titles and recommendations can also be considered as bribes. The sanctions range from fines to imprisonment for up to four years, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Only a few persons are convicted of bribery each year in Finland.