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Community, Work & Family
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Timo Anttila , Jouko Nätti & Mia Väisänen
Published online: 22 Oct 2010.

To cite this article: Timo Anttila , Jouko Nätti & Mia Väisänen (2005) THE EXPERIMENTS OF REDUCED WORKING HOURS IN FINLAND , Community, Work & Family, 8:2, 187-209, DOI: 10.1080/13668800500049704
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Timo Anttila, Jouko Na¨tti & Mia Va¨isa¨nen
Impact on workÁ family interaction and the

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importance of the sociocultural setting

This paper examines experiments of shorter working hours in Finnish municipalities between 1996 and 1998 in terms of the effects of the experiments on workÁ family interaction and which of the ways of reducing working time had the most positive effect. We analyse the experiment in respect of the Finnish working time regime, and in addition, from the perspective of community time. The analysis combines questionnaire and interview data. The results indicated that the experiment had a positive effect on workÁ family interaction. Six-hour shifts, in comparison to other forms of working time reductions, had the strongest impact on the decrease in conflict arising from work and affecting family. The interviews demonstrated various effects of the working time experiment on family, including the negative effects caused by unsocial working hours and the loss of time autonomy at work among the highly educated. Furthermore, reduced working hours in a culture based on the principle of full-time work caused some negative effects, such as feelings of guilt. The impact of the experiment on community time depended on the way the experiment was implemented.



Keywords work; time; work-family interaction; community time; reduced working hours
Cet article analyse les expe´riences de dure´e limite´e du travail dans les municipalite´s finlandaises entre 1996 et 1998; les effets de telles expe´riences sur l’interaction emploiÁ famille et la de´termination parmi les me´thodes pre´conise´es pour re´duire le temps de travail de celles ayant l’effet le plus positif. Nous analysons l’expe´rience par le biais du re´gime de temps de travail en Finlande et, en outre, selon la perspective du temps communautaire. L’analyse se fonde sur des donne´es d’interview a` la fois quantitatives (deux types de donne´es dans le questionnaire) et qualitatives. L’expe´rience a eu un effet positif sur l’interaction vie professionnelleÁ vie familiale. Les re´sultats indiquent que les pe´riodes de six heures de travail, en comparaison avec d’autres formes de re´duction du temps de travail, ont eu le plus d’effet sur la diminution des conflits engendre´s par le travail et affectant la vie familiale. Les interviews de´montrent les nombreux effets de l’expe´rience du temps de travail sur la famille, y compris les effets ne´gatifs cause´s par la perte d’autonomie de temps au travail parmi les couches les plus e´duque´es ainsi que par un horaire de travail geˆnant. De plus, la re´duction de l’horaire de travail dans une culture fonde´e sur le travail a` temps complet a quelques effets /


Community, Work and Family Vol. 8, No. 2, May 2005, pp. 187 Á/209 ISSN 1366-8803 print/ISSN 1469-3615 online – 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd DOI: 10.1080/13668800500049704


C O M M U N I T Y, W O R K & F A M I L Y

ne´gatifs, tels les sentiments de culpabilite´. L’impact de l’expe´rience sur le temps communautaire a donne´ des re´sultats varie´s, de´pendant en grande partie de la me´thode utilise´e pour une telle expe´rience.

Mots-cle´fs le travail; le temps; l’interaction emploi-famille; le temps de ville; re´duction du temps de travail

During 1996Á 1998, working time experiments with shorter working hours were carried out in 19 municipalities in Finland. The experiments were implemented with a State subsidy and the main motivator was to increase employment. It was envisaged that in order to achieve positive employment effects, working time reduction and reorganization had to be carried out simultaneously (see Cette & Taddei, 1993). One starting point was the public interest in the Finnish model of reducing and reorganizing working time, the so-called six-plus-six model. A Finnish professor in sociology, Paavo Seppa¨nen, suggested more than 30 years ago (in 1967) that productive organizations should operate for 12 hours, consisting of two daytime shifts, each six hours long (instead of the normal eight-hour shift). Underlying this proposal was the idea that such a working scheme promotes both effectiveness and human considerations.

Application of the six-plus-six scheme seemed to be particularly well-suited to the nature of municipal service work: it would combine the longer opening hours of services with shorter and less stressful working hours for employees. In practice the working time reduction was radical. In the experiments working time was reduced to 30 hours per week. The existing length of working time in the municipal sector varied between 36.25 and 38.15 hours per week, thus the working time reduction was 17.3Á 21.6%.

The planned form of reduction of working hours was to move to six-hour shifts, but in practice the implementation and form of working time reduction varied because some employees preferred longer and continuous times off, that is, either days or weeks off. In this paper we evaluate what the effects of the working time experiments were on workÁ family interaction, and which of the ways of reducing working time had the most positive effect. The main emphasis is on the evaluations of the employees’ families and their private lives, but the community time will also be discussed in brief. Working time can be separated into three main elements: the length of working time (time), the placement of working time (timing) and the use of working time (tempo). Historical and empirical organization studies show that there is a close interrelationship between these elements, and therefore, changes within one are usually linked with changes within the other two (Noon & Blyton, 1997), which thus have to be evaluated simultaneously.

The first element, reducing the length of working time, offers obvious positive aspects from the family’s viewpoint. Less time at work provides an opportunity to spend more time at home. Changing the timing of work, the second element of working time, may lead to unsocial working hours. They are often beneficial from the

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service’s viewpoint, but inconvenient from the employees’ viewpoint, who have to cope with several time schedules that define the family’s rhythm of life and form the time structure of the family (see Hewitt, 1993). The changes in use of working time (tempo) are linked to the interaction of work and family because of the increase or decrease in overall well-being.

In addition to this linear-quantitative approach we understand (working) time to be socially constructed and gendered (Davies, 1987). Thus the experiments have to be positioned within the context of the Finnish full-time working regime, and also the specific economic situation in the society in the early 1990s. An essential part of the societal context is the sense of entitlement (e.g. Lewis, 1999) held by citizens which reflects the socially and culturally built understanding of the ‘fair day’s work’ of an ideal worker.

The role of cultural factors is illustrated in Birgit Pfau-Effinger’s (1998) study on part-time work in the Netherlands, Germany and Finland. The institutional framework created by the labour market and the State has a central role for the employment behaviour of women, but these institutional factors often displace important cultural factors. Compared to the Netherlands and Germany, Finnish women are not to same extent ‘torn between ‘self’ interest and ‘care’ interest, the demand or expectation to be in two different places at the same time * in the office and at home’ (Pfau-Effinger, 1998, p. 185). In Finland full-time employment is common, and accepted, also among women with dependants, and part-time employment is not widespread, while for example in the Netherlands and (West) Germany part-time work is common among women with dependants. This study will look at how the working time experiments affected women’s time. The number of hours one ‘should’ work is socially constructed, and strongly affects perceptions of work; there are differences that derive from the societal working time regime and culture (e.g. Anxo, Boulin, Lallement, Leferve, & Silvera, 2000). These differences affect the constructed, gender-specific ‘ideal worker’, which in turn affects how much work is done (Lewis, 1999). In Finland the ‘ideal worker’ works full-time. Even though many women in Finland work full-time, working hours are gender segregated. Two-thirds of part-time workers are women and men are more likely to work longer hours.

It is often argued that the industrialized working time culture and regular patterns of working hours have been replaced by fragmented working hours and more individually organized daily paths, although the evidence is not unambiguous (e.g. Breedveld, 1998). A community-oriented way of understanding the everyday time structure, which we want to relate to, is the time in the city approach (Boulin & Mu¨ckenberger, 1999). This describes an approach towards ‘humanizing’ everyday life structures in accordance with the needs of the inhabitants. Especially within the context of public services, working time is part of the community’s time. Within this framework we will analyse the working time experiment and its effect on workÁ family interaction.



The societal framework of the experiments
Finland is a well-developed welfare state. Most social, health and educational services are provided by the municipal sector, which employs approximately 20% of Finnish


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C O M M U N I T Y, W O R K & F A M I L Y

wage earners. The first half of the 1990s in Finland could be characterized as an economic recession, which radically increased unemployment and turned the visions of the public services upside down (Julkunen & Na¨tti, 1999). Projects aimed at modernizing services and working patterns turned out to have the effect of reducing personnel and overall resources. Between 1991 and 1994 the number of municipal employees decreased by almost 40,000 (eight per cent). Resources were reduced, whereas the need and demand for services increased, as for example, more people needed social assistance and social work.

Considering this context, it is not surprising that the new working time schemes aroused hope. Work sharing had the potential to provide a solution to the problems of exhaustion among existing staff and increasing unemployment among well-educated young people.

The municipalities were motivated to participate in the six-plus-six model because of several concerns and interests. On the one hand, the municipalities wanted to enhance employment for the unemployed, and on the other hand, the worsened quality and intensified pace of work had raised great concern over the exhaustion of employees, which was also threatening the quality of services. Working Life Barometers conducted in 1997 and 1998 confirmed that, on the one hand, the pace of work and physical and mental strain, and on the other hand, the proportion of temporary employment and the perceived job insecurity of workers increased in the municipal sector in the mid-1990s.

In order to maintain the quality and quantity of services, new recruits were needed. However, the optimism towards the new working time patterns was overshadowed by a deep conflict between unions and the municipal employer. All unions within the municipal sector argued that working time could only be reduced with full wage compensation, but the national employer’s organization opposed shorter hours and work sharing.

In the spring of 1996, the Finnish government enabled experimentation with shorter working time and work sharing in municipalities. This was facilitated by a temporary change (1 J...

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