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My day job at Europe's Best Workplace

Written by Toni Vanhala (17 Jun 2016)

My seven year old daughter asked me one morning: “Do you always play at work?” “Not really, why?” She looked really confused. “Well, how come you have so much fun there?”

I'm wearing several hats at the moment. My day job is at Vincit, where I develop software for a living. When night falls, I start working on Headsted's R&D. Last night, Vincit won gold in the Great Place to Work in Europe 2016 awards. This gives the final seal to our Hack Trick: we've been the Greatest Place to Work in Finland three years in a row!

During the last 13 months at Vincit, I've been able to experience, how daily aspects of work build into an excellent place to work. These small things are easy to note from the outside, but I've started to notice more general principles behind these practises. You should be able to apply them to any work community.

Decisions are made where they impact

I remember well how confounded I felt when I was making decisions since my first day at Vincit. In fact, it all started before the first day at work. “Which phone would you like?” “PC or Mac?” What development tools should I use? “Whatever you prefer. We've found Emacs a good fit, but if you're used to working with Vim, fire away.”

Emacs is like the smile of a baby on a beautiful summer's day.

“No policy policy” is a strong part of Vincit's culture. All kinds of binding methodologies are avoided. There is no precise process for most things – and if there is – it must bend, if there is a more effective way to get things done. This enables everyone to make decisions about their work.

My own experience is that the lack of hierarchy leads to stronger commitment and responsibility for one's own work. This may be a bit surprising, but experienced responsibility is a direct result of not handing over decision making to the foreman or middle management. Options and good practises are generously shared, but in the end, I can make all the stupid decisions. Mistakes do happen, but they are accepted as a necessary part of learning.

PHP may have been a wrong choice after all.

There is no work wellbeing

Vincit provides unusually rich employee benefits, such as, dental care, massage, and movie tickets, even care for a sick child and personal coaching paid by the employer. On a surface level, it's easy to think that more benefits equals better feelings at work. It really is a superficial thought, as the support for daily living from these benefits is much more significant than their amount or financial value.

I signed up for personal coaching right after starting work at Vincit. Mind you, I did not feel a need for help with challenges at work or home. I was just curious of what Personal Coaching entails.

The coach didn't focus on “maximizing my potential”. She coached me to identify the most significant and meaningful aspects of my life. Taking a step back, I saw that achieving things as a team or community has always been important and statisfying for me. Enabling others to achieve personally meaningful things is also part of my passion. This revelation did not give me a list of immediate actions, but it gave me the courage to push forward.

So, coaching was a waste of time, if you apply traditional theories of management. After all, there was no measurable change in my productivity in the short term. A smart leader – on the other hand – sees that work wellbeing is not separate from the individual who does the work. There is no Work Wellbeing, the wellbeing manifests in everyday life.

"Work mode enabled. Shutdown all brain function."

All the minor and major benefits help a person to organize her or his everyday life. This includes time and resources for optimal work. When your child is ill, there is a lot of work to be done, and the grandparents are hundred miles away, then child care provided by the employer has many direct and indirect benefits. Not only do I get my work done, I'm less stressed, and at less change of burnout. The result is a productive employee and a productive company.

Openness, openness, openness

There is an underlying principle behind all the examples above: openness. Openness to trying out new things, openness for ideas of employees, willingness to face criticism. This openness manifests in many practical ways. Suggestions and decisions of management are discussed and everyone's opinion is noted. Central measures of work wellbeing, projects, and customer satisfaction are open for everyone to see. There is a radical openness to the Suggestion Box: once a month an employee gets to make an irrevocable decision. This is how we got a ping pong table and a subscription of Donald Duck magazine to the office.

The precursor to openness is willingness to face everything as it is – be it positive or negative. In some workplaces, the reason of avoiding hard topics seems to be fear. It might be that the employees did something really stupid, if they had control over their own work. It's obviously much better that management gets the right to make all the idiotic decisions. Sometimes avoidance spawns from lazyness. Close you eyes and deny there is a problem, and it will disappear for – at least five minutes. There's no need to come up with any long-term solution to the challenges.

Willingness and skill to face both negative and positive aspects of life is called psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility of companies and organizations is a relatively recent field of research, but the culture of Vincit is a great example of an open and bold attitude. When you have courage to face things as they are, you are in a good position to change and improve them.

Even when every external aspects of work – like benefits and culture – are in good shape, there may come a time when one faces challenges that seem overwhelming at the moment. Many people have already benefited from Headsted's online programmes. Vincit also offers our programmes as an employee benefit. The programmes focus on stress, sleep problems, and low mood. The methodologies that we use in these programmes are aimed to increase psychological flexibility. This way, not only can individuals become more resilient, but we can support the openness of the work community. After all, the boldness, flexibility, and happiness of the work environment comes from the people themselves.