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Employers seek help to ensure workers are well-rested, happy

Absences due to physical illness have remained unchanged or decreased, but the share of absences related to mental health issues has increased.

Nainen nukkumassa sohvalla.
The separation between work and leisure time blurred for many as work-from-home routines were taken during the pandemic. At the same time, casual chats during coffee breaks at the workplace became a thing of the past, at least temporarily. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Employers in Finland are increasingly offering employees easier access to get help for personal problems that might otherwise affect their job performance.

A person's ability to function at home is reflected in their work lives, according to Mervi Lamminen, from well-being services firm Auntie Solutions.

The company focuses on improving workers' lives by targeting areas that could benefit from assistance. The help can be targeted to address issues like over achievement or self management but also personal matters such as insomnia or relationship problems.

The service is meant to be used as a preventative measure before workers find themselves seeking help from occupational health services.

"For employers, a day's absence is a day's absence, whether it is due to the end of a long-term relationship or because of a broken leg. If any [life event] causes a person's performance to decline, yes, employers should be interested in helping them to holistically get their lives back on track," Lamminen said.

Skills to cope — and to work

The most common way the company assists clients is helping them to learn stress- and self-management skills, but the majority of the firm's corporate customers select support packages offering personal support to struggling workers.

Apart from facilitating workers to find solutions to personal problems, employers are also increasingly interested in preventative measures to avoid fatigue and maintain good mental health.

Mental health issues have become the most common cause of disability retirement in Finland and the Covid crisis saw a dramatic increase in people seeking help from occupational health services.

Last week, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health — an arm of the Social Affairs and Health Ministry — published a toolkit for employers to support mental health in the workplace.

Mieli Mental Health Finland's Sari Nuikki heads up the organisation's Mental Health at Work Unit. She said that employers should be interested in the health of their workers' personal lives and in the amount of exercise they're getting.

While the gritty personal details of workers' lives shouldn't be available to employers, life situations do affect people's ability to work and it is good for employers to be interested, according to Nuikki.

Good at home — good at work

"Recovering [from life events] can take place during work hours, but people mainly recover in their leisure time. Which means it matters what a person does and how they take care of themselves in their free time," Nuikki explained.

Low threshold services similar to Auntie Solutions are increasing and the industry is likely to grow, according to Auli Rytivaara, an expert physician at the business lobby Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK). She is involved with the steering group of the social affairs and health ministry's Mental Health at Work Programme.

According to Rytivaara, on the whole, absences due to physical illness have remained unchanged or decreased, but the share of absences related to mental health issues has increased.

There are a variety of strategies that can be used to improve well-being among workers, including morning coffee meetings where people can talk about non-work issues, as well as separate sessions during which various life challenges can be tackled, according to Rytivaara.

"When things are good at home, the employee also copes better, is more motivated and more committed to work," Rytivaara said.

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