SAK working conditions survey: Better working conditions improve attitudes to new technology at workplaces

Deploying new technology is easier at workplaces with good working conditions. The regular working conditions survey of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) suggests that new technology does not seem to reduce working duties significantly in Finland.
16.08.2018 13:54
Esa, Tree Harvester Operator. Photo: Jaakko Lukumaa

A quarter of members of SAK-affiliated trade unions working in good conditions are happy to see new technology deployed at their workplaces, with only 9 per cent disapproving such deployment. This contrasts with a wholly favourable attitude shown by only 6 per cent of employees with poor or fairly poor working conditions, where 38 per cent are entirely unhappy to see new technology introduced.

Favourable and unfavourable experiences of deploying new technology at various levels of working life quality

SAK Development Unit Director Juha Antila stresses that workplaces hold the key to successfully deploying new technology.

“Improving the quality of working conditions makes employees more receptive to new technology. This finding further establishes the clear causal link between job satisfaction and employee productivity.”

Working conditions are more important for accepting new technology than the choice of industry, or the age or sex of the employees affected. Younger employees of not more than 30 years of age have better experiences of new technology than their older colleagues, with men generally more receptive to it than women, and more successful deployment of new technology occurring in industry than in other economic sectors.

New technology has no significant impact on employment

Technological progress is commonplace in sectors organised by SAK-affiliated trade unions. Nearly half of all respondents (48 per cent) to the working conditions survey reported that new technical facilities had become part of their work in recent years.

Three quarters (74 per cent) of respondents engaged in work where new technology had been deployed reported that none of their previous duties had been reassigned to machines, automation, robots or other technological facilities. In only four per cent of responses had employee duties been significantly reassigned, although some minimal degree of reassignment was reported in 22 per cent of cases.

Similar findings were obtained in a survey of workers’ representatives conducted by SAK in March 2018, with 72 per cent of workers’ representatives reporting no impact on employment arising from the deployment of new technology.

Juha Antila

“While technology may increase, eliminate or change individual duties, it has not shown any inherent tendency to terminate entire workplaces, at least for the time being. The elimination of strenuous or hazardous duties is often welcomed, and may make work more rewarding,” Juha Antila says.

How SAK is studying the impacts of artificial intelligence and other new technology on the world of work?

Finland’s largest labour confederation examined the effects of deploying artificial intelligence and other advanced technology on the work of employees in spring 2018 as part of its four-year Time of Opportunities project launched in 2017. The project has already focused on new adult education and on the status of employees in a platform economy.

The working conditions survey: How is new technology changing the work of employees?
The working conditions survey interviewed 1,202 members of SAK-affiliated trade unions by telephone in February and March 2018. The SAK Good Job Barometer gauges the quality of working conditions by measuring employment essentials and elements of a smooth working experience.

Thematic interviews: Tekoäly tulee – muuttuuko duunarin työ?
[AI is coming – will the worker’s job change? Available in Finnish only]
This survey applied a qualitative methodology. Eight employees working in a total of seven occupations completed structured personal interviews in February and March 2018. One of these interviews took place by telephone and the others were conducted face to face. SAK commissioned these interviews from the research consultancy firm Mikko Kesä Oy.

Workers’ representative panel: Uuden teknologian vaikutukset työpaikoille
[Workplace impacts of new technology – Available in Finnish only]
A total of 1,030 shop stewards and labour protection delegates responded to the SAK workers’ representative panel survey in March 2018. 621 responded affirmatively when asked whether new technology had been introduced at their workplaces over the last few years. The remaining survey questions were addressed solely to these respondents.

New technology in the work of a homecare nurse and tree harvester operator

Niina Pahtela, practical homecare nurse

Niina Pahtela uses a lot of new technology in her work as a practical homecare nurse. She still sometimes dreams of a power cut that would make us think about what really matters in her work.

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Esa Sorila, tree harvester operator

Esa Sorila began his career as a lumberjack with a chainsaw. Nowadays he operates a tree harvester that has effectively made him an office worker.

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