In Finland it is allowed – even encouraged – to take some time off. It is believed to make you happier and more productive.
In many American workplaces spending time with your child is not a good reason for missing work. The culture is different in Finland. “It’s huge not to feel guilty all the time,” says Heini Vesander.
Heini Vesander and Michail Katkoff are Finnish nationals who lived and worked in Silicon Valley for several years, but decided to move back to Finland so they could spend more time with their daughter. They found a home in Espoo, the western neighbour of Helsinki, in November 2017.
“We chose Finland because of the better work-life balance,” Vesander explains. “We have a four-year-old daughter, Ronya, and in the US it is not very kid-friendly at work. Finland has a culture that allows and even encourages a life outside of work. This is important to us because we want to spend time with her and influence what kind of person Ronya becomes.”
As an example of the different attitudes towards families, Vesander says that in San Francisco she was not allowed to take a stroller on a bus. In Finland, she gets a free bus ride if she has a child in a stroller.
“In San Francisco, you might need to get in line for a daycare even before your kid is born, and then pay 3,000 dollars a month for it,” says Vesander. “In Finland you go online, sign up immediately, and pay 290 euros per month.”
Encouraging for tech startups
Vesander and Katkoff have not retired from the exciting and fast-moving world of tech companies. Vesander is the Head of Communications at the food delivery powerhouse Wolt, while Katkoff, started a new games studio after working in a leadership role at Rovio, a local gaming powerhouse and the creators of Angry Birds. He points out how good an environment Finland is for entrepreneurs.
“It is tough to own a startup in San Francisco because the costs are high. You have to dilute your ownership stake by raising more money,” says Katkoff. “Here in Helsinki we have great Venture Capitalists and talent.”
They also say that Finland provides incentives to run a startup. There are organisations like Business Finland to help entrepreneurs, favourable tax rates and simplified regulations.
“Another thing to keep in mind is that everything is global nowadays,” Katkoff says. “It is very easy to do remote work from Finland, even if your employer is located somewhere else.”
There is a risk of a culture shock when Americans move to Finland. Finns are quiet and reserved, and Vesander says it can be a lonely place. Yet when you do make a Finnish friend, she says, you have a friend for life.
Lower stress leads to happier and nicer people
“Salaries are higher in the States, but do a budgeting exercise and consider actual costs,” Vesander suggests. “You can get a house in Helsinki for the cost of a one-room apartment in San Francisco. Think about Finland’s health and education systems. You can get a Ph.D. for free in Finland! Imagine the debt you would have to rack up to do it in the States.”
Vesander and Katkoff had roots in Finland, but returning after a number of years abroad gave them a few pleasant surprises. They were happy to see how international Helsinki had become and the number of quality restaurants. Yet perhaps the nicest thing about living in the Helsinki area was what it did to themselves.
“Everything is easier here and it takes less time to get things done. Stress levels are so much lower, and that impacts us,” Vesander says. “I think I’m a nicer person again living in Finland.”
Text: David J. Cord
Helsinki Business Hub has launched a program called ‘90 Day Finn’, which offers a free relocation package to Helsinki, Finland for selected U.S. tech professionals. The package will ensure a smooth stay, including assistance with everything from needed documentation to housing, daycare, schools and healthcare arrangements to suit the participants’ individual needs.
Apply now to get your share of the abundance this world-famous welfare state can offer!