By Susanna Heiskanen, podcast host of The Nordic Mum
Susanna Heiskanen is a podcaster, blogger and organizational junkie for mothers who feel overwhelmed by life and business. She started the Nordic Mum Podcast to express herself and share the simplistic lifestyle that Scandinavia is famous for and how you can replicate it wherever you are. In her guest blog below, Susanna talks on work-life balance of Nordic countries and why these countries are so successful.
How come Finns are the happiest people in the planet according to the annual reports? Why do all the Nordic countries top the charts when you investigate wealth, equality, work arrangements, gender gap etc? As an expat Finn living in Australia, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, I cannot help but to compare the work life balance in Australia and Finland.
If you have been following the conversation surrounding the Nordic Countries, you would have picked up two things – the Nordic Countries are the happiest in the planet and people are wealthy and equal in the society. Four of the top places went to the Scandinavian countries according to annual World Happiness index. Second thing that has been mentioned a lot is the school system and equality amongst women and men the prosperous societies displays.
When I look at the Finland and Scandinavia, I get a feel people are happy for just the life as it is. In general people get to live happy long lives. Their health is looked after by the generous national health services. People live in a free society where they can choose what to study, where to live and how to practice their religion. The work life balance starts from school as there are no private schools. Everyone starts from equal setting.
When you start working you are not expected to work over your time without been compensated. If your workday finishes at 5 you go home at 5. Your work colleagues or boss won’t stay longer so why should you?
The work environment supports people finishing on time. People in Sweden enjoy fikapaus or fikarast in the morning and in the evening. Fika mean “coffee and cake break” and it is part of work schedule for example in Volvo factories in Sweden.
In Scandinavia, you can share your parental leave with your spouse. Flexible work arrangements and work from home with ease back at work slowly once having a baby are some of the perks our Scandinavian cousins enjoy.
There is a feel of maternal support on the policies and practices by the companies. Driven perhaps by the low birth rate the Nordic countries suffer. While it sounds like too good to be true, there are downfalls as well. Although Scandinavian countries are seen example of equal opportunities, women still earn 15- 16 % less than their male counter parts according to Nordic Council Report.
What about in Australia? What is the work life balance here? If we look at the paternity leave. The government gives you 18-week paternity leave for those eligible. This benefit is means tested. There are 2 weeks for the father or partner again for those who are eligible. Both are paid on minimum wage. Some companies supplement this with their own policies and pays although these are not compulsory requirement. Flexible work and work from home is decided by the employer, however the general consensus is that working from home should be an exception rather than a rule. There are great exceptions to these for example Westpac Bank. They had a female CEO for many years’ and she has been an advocate for equality in workplace in Wespac.
Many women fail to return to their corporate careers after having children due to the inflexible work arrangements by the corporate world. Women opt in to take lower paid positions than their education rewards or start their own business from home. Title mompreneur has gained coverage in recent years as women have opted to start their businesses rather than return to corporate work environment where work life balance does not exist.
In overall the work life balance is better in Scandinavian countries and we will see them prosper because they respect women as equals in workplace and support the opportunities not by sex but by qualifications. Countries that have equal opportunities for women prosper. It will take longer for the developed countries like Australia and US to reduce these gaps with the current political climate and I am interested to see the changes happening though slowly.
Podcast Host of The Nordic Mum