Aleksanteri Institute wins the Working Community Award

The University of Helsinki gave out it's annual awards for workplace well-being and equality (Maikki Friberg award) today. Aleksanteri Institute was granted the 6000 e award for exceptionally good team work and community building.

The Aleksanteri Institute has  been very successful in receiving both project funding and media attention for its research themes. The institute is well known in the international academic networks for its excellent multidisciplinary research and innovative study programmes. What has received perhaps less attention is, that the Aleksanteri Institute is also a great and friendly place to work. This important aspect was acknowledged today, as the Institute received an award for its longtime efforts in teambuilding at the afternoon event "Hyvän työn iltapäivä" at the University of Helsinki.

— We have actually been working quite systematically to achieve this goal, says long-time director Markku Kivinen. As a director, I've tried to pay special attention to how people are integrated into the community and how they might benefit from working together.

The Aleksanteri Institute has also a strong culture that embraces democracy. Big decisions are discussed openly, policies are drafted collectively and people working in different roles and in different stages of their career can all have a chance to have a say. Also smaller things are discussed and decided democratically and everybody's invited to join in. 

— This has been our secret recipe for success, really, laughs Markku Kivinen. And now we are giving it away for free!

Active individuals + healthy structures + luck = good community

Good leadership and motivated, inspirational people are a good start, but what is also needed in order to create a good working community is the right structures to encourage people to work together, rather than compete against each other and that can at least partly alleviate the pressure and uncertainties that academic careers necessarily contain. This is not always easy in a world that is built on competitiveness plus in-flexible procedures on the other hand and constant change on the other. 

— There have been difficult times, says Brendan Humphreys, a researcher and lecturer who has worked at the Aleksanteri Institute since 2009 with a few breaks. We lost a few key players in the big organisational restructuring at the university a few years ago, but we recovered and managed to re-build a healthy work environment. As Oliver Sachs says, illness turns in upon itself, whereas health turns outwards, longing “to be filled with the fullness of the world.” This has of course been greatly helped by the extra funding we got when we landed the Acdemy of Finland Center of Excellence in Russian Studies in 2012.

The coordinator role of the Centre of Excellence allowed the institute to recruit new, motivated scholars and secure the career paths of people in the network. It also gave extra resources for applying for new funding and yet more resources. It became a circle of good, a positive snowball effect. 

Not all fun and games - but some fun is always needed!

A significant part of the wellbeing at the institute stems from the extra-curricular activities and special functions that are arranged on regular basis, either annually, weekly or even daily by the colleagues. The Aleksanteri Institute has both legendary christmas parties and low treshold bi-weekly planking sessions. The staff arranges trips and excursions to cultural events as well as nearby woods. And pubs. There are brown bag lunches, picnics and parties, even a lunch disco called Afternoon Beat. What makes them special is, that everybody is invited from professors to interns.  

One thing that highlights the way the Aleksanteri community works for inclusiveness and equality is the fact that the application process for this award was initiated by a new comer, research assistant Elena Gorbacheva, who only started to work at the institute last year.

— I was immediately made to feel at home, says Elena. I always felt welcome and appreciated as one of the colleagues, even if I'm still finishing my MA studies and initially came for a very brief period. 

— The Aleksanteri Institute is a close community, but not a closed one, points out Brendan. We feel it's not only nice but also wise to make everyone feel as part of the community - so they can also help in building it to become even stronger.