Compelling actions and coaching leadership – On the trail of a functioning, diverse, and multilingual work community

Teksti | Sanni Einovaara , Marika Kivistö , Berenice Rivera-Macias

Many sectors are currently suffering from labour shortages, while international jobseekers from outside Europe still find it difficult to get into the Finnish working life (Renvik &; Säävälä et al. 2023, 14). Several RDI projects coordinated by Laurea UAS are currently carrying out development work to promote, on the one hand, the ability of migrants to start their work life in Finland and, on the other hand, the ability of employers to familiarise themselves with and consider the diversification and multilingualism of work communities. Current projects include CeMeWe (Central Baltic Mentoring for Migrant Women seeking Employment), Get Work Vantaa, MAKU (Moniaistinen Kosketus Uuteen Kieleen, MALL in English), and Maahanmuuttajien yrittäjyyspolku (Laurea 2024).


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The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the strengths of a diverse local management team as they have succeeded, within a large company, in employee retention, professional development, and professional success. This article is the result of collaboration between two RDI projects MALL and TREENI and SOL Palvelut Oy. The ESF+-funded MALL project (Multisensory Approaches to Language Learning), which is ongoing between 2023–2025, experiments, researches and develops diverse approaches to learning and familiarising oneself with the language needed in working life. That is done in collaboration with stakeholders and the project partners.  The TREENI- Working Life Joint Training project, which is ongoing between 2023–2026, uses a coaching socio-pedagogical approach to develop solutions to problems such as mismatches between young jobseekers and working life, as well as to support the diversity of work communities. SOL Palvelut Oy, a key partner company of Laurea UAS, operates in the field of cleaning and office spaces. The authors from MALL are Sanni Einovaara, lecturer in social affairs and project expert, and Berenice Rivera-Macias, project expert. The author from TREENI is Marika Kivistö, lecturer who works as an expert in the social sector and as a service designer.

Working with SOL Itis to identify its strengths and engaging actions

While collaborating with SOL Palvelut Oy, the abovementioned projects were invited to collaborate with a cleaning service team and site, namely SOL Itis. All the Itis work community consists of employees whose native language is other than Finnish. Turnover is low, as employees enjoy their work, commit to it and are proud of their work and work community. Moreover, they want to learn Finnish and integrate into Finnish society.

To find out how to create such a committed and learning-friendly work community, the projects launched a pilot in autumn 2023 in which co-creation was applied through two workshops with the various stakeholders: the HR team, the Itis leadership team, and the service teams. Additionally, eight employees and supervisors in different positions in the work community were interviewed. The aims of the collaboration work were to identify good practices in a diverse and multilingual work community and recognise actions that increase well-being and engage at different levels. Another objective has been to understand how to make those findings transferable to other teams. This resembles what Seligman (2023) defines as a positive organisation or institution, which is one that uses its strengths to foster better working communities through work ethic, leadership, teamwork, and purpose.

As a result of the pilot, we found the following six specific strengths in the Itis team:

  • Open communication culture.
  • A nurturing work community.
  • Diversity and multilingualism.
  • Professional pride and joy of work.
  • Engaging onboarding process.
  • Shopping mall as a work item.

During the pilot, we also observed strengths in the small teams, which were visible in concrete actions taking place at different levels within the organisation. A leadership culture that promotes coaching and psychological safety, which provides space for the participation and agency of different community members, was identified as a special factor maintaining the positive cycle.

An open and active communication culture creates psychological safety, inclusion, and equality

Psychological safety can be thought of as a shared belief that it is safe to take risks and be yourself in a group. In a community like this, it’s possible to express yourself freely, ask for help, and make and admit that you’ve made mistakes safely (Työterveyslaitos 2021). Participation in the community can be built on several different levels. For instance, on an individual level, inclusion arises when people feel that they belong to groups or communities that are meaningful to them. In a community, participation arises from mutual appreciation and trust, as well as the opportunity to influence common issues. At societal level, inclusion means the realisation of opportunities and rights, as well as reciprocity between people (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2023a).

Lastly, equality means that everybody is treated in the same manner, as we are all equal, regardless of any differences that may be visible or invisible to the eye such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language, etcetera (Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2023b). That also requires equal rights of employees and the employer’s concrete means to influence the actual equality in the workplace. This could be shown both in terms of hiring, career progression, division of tasks, deciding on salary and benefits, access to training, as well as in the development of the working community (Työ

An open communication culture is implemented at all levels of the organisation. The team participating in the pilot actively utilises Telegram (a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app) for communication. Different channels and groups have been created for different topics and discussions. For example, a channel for sudden cleaning needs across the shopping centre, which most likely would include an image; a channel for arranging special permissions; a channel for organising work shifts; and so on. Communication enables real-time work organisation and facilitates supervisory tasks. Information is also simultaneously accessible to all persons, which strengthens the feeling of inclusion and equality. Digital communication also enables the use of image communication, language translation, voice messages and voice assistance. Consequently, the diverse and multilingual work community has easy access to shared information. Additionally, digital communication through the mobile phone provides a sense of security, especially for new employees. Colleagues are reachable, even if they are physically distant.

In addition to digital communication, common everyday encounters and interaction around work are important. The work community gathers regularly for joint team meetings and joint celebrations. Confidential and personal discussions with supervisors are seen as a factor in preventing conflicts and promoting solutions. The staff trust in the fairness of each other and the management, and together bear responsibility for both the atmosphere at the workplace and the adequacy of communication. The management team, on the other hand, enjoys the trust of their organisation and feels free to make choices that are beneficial to their work community. Clear rules and compliance with them provide security for everyone. Supervisors are seen as taking care not only of the smooth running of work, but also of leaving no one behind.

Based on the workshops, interviews and observations, SOL Itis employees feel that they are not only at work, but also that they are part of a community important to them. Employees feel valued by both management and each other, as everyone is met with kindness and interest, not only as a member of staff, but also as a person. They can rely on each other and the management, which creates psychological safety in the work community. Finally, the common working language is English, which serves as a positive choice that strengthens inclusion. While English is not the official work language in Itis, it serves the function of integrating staff into the work community. Interestingly, while not all the team members speak English, they succeed in communicating and try to learn basics of each other’s languages. Psychological safety has been discussed as contributing also to integration within the host society (Nummila, Lydén & Rivera-Macias, 2024). By feeling included in the workplace and having a sense of community in SOL Itis, staff with migrant background have also developed the interest in learning Finnish to participate fully of the society.

Diversity and multilingualism are desirable

The good reputation of the employer and the team at this setting is attractive to jobseekers in the field. In recruitment, diverse skills are identified instead of only appreciating experience gained from training or work in the field. The fact that they have teammates with long experience working in Itis, means that the work community can smoothly teach site-specific skills to newcomers who may only have the motivation and the right attitude.

In recruitment, diversity management is used to ensure that the work community remains sufficiently representative. Diversity management is relevant due to the constant changes in the labour and consumer markets due to high levels of migration (Ravazzani 2016). From the perspective of SOL Itis’ management team and the work community, diversity and multilingualism are a conscious choice contributing to their work community’s enrichment. As mentioned above, the unofficial working language is English, but the attitude towards other languages is curious and flexible. Other language skills are valued and utilised, for example, in the onboarding of new employees and in strengthening the language skills of the work community. Colleagues get involved even if their English language skills are still developing.

The management team supports integration into the Finnish society by promoting Finnish language learning, through the company’s own courses, by communicating with other staff working in the shopping centre, and through communication with colleagues who have learned Finnish but who do not speak English. Therefore, a variety of language skills is also prevalent, encouraged and supported. With a holistic approach, the management team contributes to the integration process during one-to-one meetings where individual needs are considered. Subsequently, additional support is given for relevant processes regarding life in Finland. All of these actions contribute to well-being at work too and becomes a positive cycle for integration (Nummila, Lydén & Rivera-Macias 2024).

Coaching leadership facilitates well-being, high-quality work, and encourages learning new things

A supervisor with a coaching approach acts as an enabler of on-the-job learning and ensures the smooth running of everyday work. They give feedback that is constructive and promotes learning. He strengthens resources that promote well-being at work, promotes a sense of community and interaction, and invests in employee knowledge and building trusting relationships. Coaching leadership, on-the-job learning and well-being at work form a mutually reinforcing virtuous circle. (Uutela 2019, 4.)

High quality of work and the right attitude are essential characteristics of an employee at SOL Itis. We observed that individually and collectively, there is a clear professional pride that comes from valuing one’s own work and the required skills. Work is spoken of with conscious appreciation and joy at every level. The attitude towards mistakes is human. For example, employees receive feedback about their mistakes, and support for improvement is offered. Time for such developments is given, and pressure for fast task performance is minimal. This reduces the stress associated with starting work, for instance, and thus also makes it easier to learn new things. Coaching leadership, a sense of community and the joy of work pull new employees into a cycle of positivity, to which they also develop commitment. Those experiences reflect that perceived self-efficacy and needs satisfaction influence the sense of belonging, increase people’s motivation for own continuous professional development and for contributing to the continuity of that positive cycle (Bandura 1993).

Moreover, high psychological safety promotes, among other things, learning new things, operational efficiency and productivity, job satisfaction, and commitment to work and to the organisation (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health 2021). Moreover, the sense of belonging has been found to promote language learning (Intke-Hernandez 2020, 78-29). A psychologically safe and inclusive work community also provides an excellent platform for learning a new language. Learning Finnish has been found to be very important from the perspective of both the comprehensive integration of immigrants and the acquisition of Finnish citizenship (Renval &; Säävälälä 2023, 13).

Regarding SOL Itis, the induction process for a every new employee is slightly different because the onboarding is adapted to the new employee’s background, needs and learning process. The management team aims to understand the employees and to adapt the established onboarding structures and guidance into a suitable procedure that would lead to success. In particular, the orientation pace is based on observations of actual learning. For instance, the show and tell method is used, where the new employee follows the concrete example of an experienced colleague, learning one task at the time, and receiving feedback on their own performance of the same task. Moreover, the new employee is also supported by colleagues who are trained tutors, and the entire work community, as everyone takes responsibility for the new employee’s learning of the work.

SOL Itis has an open and active feedback culture, where everyone gives each other comments and develops professionally based on that. The responsibility for success is shared and everyone’s contribution is considered significant in terms of the quality of work. Additionally, feedback is received from the shopping centre’s management, supervisors, other team members and shopping centre customers. Feedback is also requested from new employees.

As this article shows through one example of good practice, psychologically safe and inclusive work culture requires management to have the will and competence to coach leadership and promote safety and inclusion. However, these are skills that can and should be strengthened when striving to promote the well-being of work communities and employee engagement. It is worth investing in psychological safety and promoting inclusion, especially in sectors where competition for labour is fierce. A healthy, committed and learning-friendly work community is a company’s competitive advantage that benefits employees, employers, customers, and the Finnish society alike.

The publication has been created as a part of the ESF+funded MALL project coordinated by Laurea University of Applied Sciences, where various approaches for learning the language needed in the working life are being tested, studied, and developed. The project is designed in response to the need to promote the rapid employment of immigrants, especially in the fields experiencing workforce shortage. The project involves Haaga-Helia, Arffman Ltd., and Lingsoft Ltd. (MAKU-Hanke – Laurea-Ammattikorkeakoulu, n.d.).

The TREENI project is implemented as a joint project of Laurea University of Applied Sciences and Humanist University of Applied Sciences (Humak) from 1 October 2023 to 30 September 2026 and the project is financed by the European Social Fund. In the project, we take the voice of young people as part of the development work of work communities, so that the challenges of young people are taken into account.



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