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Time pressure at work came to a sudden end for many – corona burdens more and more in healthcare and social welfare

Twitterissä: @HannaSutela
Kuva: Kari Likonen

The Quality of Work Life Survey has examined time pressure as a factor hampering the working environment since 1977. Employees who say they have time pressure in their work have been asked how much harmful strain is caused by the experienced time pressure. Expressed in this way the aim is to distinguish small time pressure that creates vigour, a sense of achievement, from strain that is continuous, excessive and even distressing.

The results of the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey showed that time pressure causing a harmful strain had grown among women and in the local government sector to record figures during the whole 40-year-long time series.

In 1977, close on one-fifth (18%) of employees, men slightly more commonly than women, felt they were much or fairly much burdened by time pressure at work. At that time, the enforced pace of work was most familiar in manual worker occupations in manufacturing.

From there on, experiences of time pressure became more common so that in 1997 the share of those burdened by time pressure had risen to 35 per cent for women and to 30 per cent for men. It was the time of an enormous upswing, when economic growth was already of the same magnitude as at the turn of the previous decade, but there were over 250,000 fewer employees working than before the recession in 1990. Resources had been cut, overtime work was rife.

At the turn of the millennium, the share of employees experiencing harmful time pressure fell, the situation evened out to the level prior to the recession in the 1990s and 1997 became an exceptional spike in history.

Until the figures of the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey showed surprisingly that the share of women feeling time pressure much or fairly much in their work had grown sharply from 2013, from 32 to 39 per cent – beyond the previous record figures. The share of men feeling time pressure had also grown in five years, but only by a few percentage points to 26 per cent. This is even lower than in 1990.

The increase in time pressure experienced by female employees is connected to the fact that time pressure has become particularly common in the female-dominated local government sector (43%) compared to the central government or private sectors (29–30%).

However, women feel time pressure clearly more frequently than men in all sectors – the share for women in the local government sector rises to 47 per cent. According to the latest results, time pressure is particularly detrimental to the work of lower and upper-level employees, not that much to those working in manual worker occupations.

Time pressure is often based on the feeling that the number of personnel is too low at the workplace relative to the tasks. This is especially true in healthcare and customer service occupations. Around three out of four employees say their work includes tight schedules. In this respect, the difference between the genders is not that great.

In contrast, women feel considerably more often (54%) than men (41%) that they have too many tasks under way and that their work is often interrupted because of inquiries, phone calls or instant messages (women 64%, men 50%).

Women also feel more often than men that they do not have time to work as well and conscientiously as they would like (women 50%, men 33%). Nearly one-half (48%) of women in the local government sector feel that digitalisation of work has increased the burdening of work.

According to Statistics Finland's Leisure Survey, time pressure experienced in everyday life has also grown. To what extent are work pressures reflected in everyday burdening and vice versa?

It is noteworthy that in the European Quality of Work Life Survey, Finland stands out as a country where time pressure experienced by women was already significantly higher in 2015 than in the EU28 countries on average, while time pressure experienced by men was more or less average for the EU28.

The events of the past weeks have brought the results of the 2018 Quality of Work Life Survey to a new light. For many Finns, time pressure in working life has come to a sudden end. Meetings, assignments, seminars have been cancelled. The number of customers has collapsed. The lucky ones now have time to work on backlogs – for the unluckier ones, time pressure transforms into lay-offs and unemployment.

The results concerning the healthcare and social welfare sector in 2018 made us think at the time that the situation could not get much worse. Now it is probably not unclear to anyone that it certainly can. It seems outrageous that the burden is increasing most precisely where there has been no room for manoeuvre up to now either.

Excessive and continuous time pressure is devastating for people's well-being. Coping problems are more common for people feeling much time pressure in their work. Time pressure also has a price tag for employers and the national economy: long sick leaves and disability caused by mental health reasons have become more common in recent years.

Innovation and creativity also suffer. In 2018, one-half of female employees and around 40 per cent of male employees said that they would in principle be able to apply new ideas to their work, but in practice there is often no time for it. The number of initiatives related to own work, products and services, and workplace arrangements has decreased particularly among women since 2013.

It is no good news for continuing working careers that employees aged over 50 feeling much time pressure and burdening at work in general are less often prepared to postpone retirement than others.

Now we mainly focus on living through the next few months. One can hope, however, that we will learn something from the current state of emergency. It truly is time to bring new creative solutions to everyday life, to the level of jobs and to society, to support socially and environmentally sustainable development, also in working life. Hopefully there is time to think about them.


The author is Senior Researcher at the Population and Social Statistics Department at Statistics Finland.


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