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Monday’s papers: Corona subsidies, Covid-safe classrooms, is teleworking harming our mental health?

Several papers report on the unexpectedly positive impact the pandemic has had on municipal finances around the country.

Koululuokka, jossa on tuoleja ja pulpetteja
Classrooms are difficult to keep Covid-safe. Image: Christoffer Westerlund / Yle

Oulu regional paper Kaleva is among those covering a study by the Foundation for Municipal Development (KAKS) which has found that local municipalities posted a net positive income of 700 million euros last year, despite losing around 670 million euros in tax income.

According to the study, the financial boost is the result of subsidies received from the national government, which has covered the cost of things like coronavirus testing, staff furloughs and layoffs.

Kaleva notes that while the boost is temporary, there are between 20 and 30 municipalities previously at risk of being placed on the government’s crisis financial management list which are now likely to avoid that outcome.

While 2019 saw official spending exceed income in 66 municipalities, that number is likely to have dropped to around zero in 2020, the study claims.

Coronavirus safety measures "a burden", say teachers

A Helsingin Sanomat survey of over 400 teachers working at primary, secondary and vocational schools has found that, in one respondent’s words, maintaining social distancing in schools is "like telling birds not to fly."

"If some students start fighting it’s completely pointless to shout from the other side of a safety gap," Nelli Akkola, a teacher from Vantaa told HS. "We try to comply with the restrictions. We do our best, but we aren’t miracle workers."

The gap between expectation and reality is leaving some teachers with a sense of guilt, the paper says, and contributing to growing dissatisfaction.

"Exhaustion is always about the mismatch between demands and resources. The amount of work has grown during the epidemic, and it has been a key factor in the increase in exhaustion," Helsinki University professor Katariina Salmela-Aro told HS.

According to Salmela-Aro, this survey marks the first recorded incidence of a severe drop in Finnish teachers’ job satisfaction.

The news isn’t all bad, however: the article claims that the perception of teachers among the general public has improved during the pandemic.

"Parents have realised what an important job teachers do, while teachers themselves have experienced what it is to be a driving force in society in these exceptional times. Appreciation is a factor that protects against exhaustion, which has not decreased but rather increased," Salmela-Aro says.

More people are taking sick leave due to mental health reasons, but is remote working to blame?

A feature in Tampere paper Aamulehti questions whether an uptick in people taking time off work for mental health reasons can be linked to the pandemic-related growth in remote working.

The paper quotes occupational health psychologist Mona Moisala, who says she has seen a 50 percent increase in the usual number of requests for sick leave among her clients, many of whom work in the information and IT industries.

"Clients have reported a lack of social contact, daily monotony, meeting marathons, a lack of breaks, and working overtime and during their leisure time," Moisala says.

Aamulehti also hears from Antti Aro, lead psychologist at occupational health provider Terveystalo, who says that the increase in mental health-related work absences is a longer-term trend, with a sharp increase since 2016.

"Teleworking has, in fact, improved most people’s capacity for work, except for supervisors, whose risk of exhaustion is slightly increased," Aro says, citing studies by Aalto University and the National Institute of Occupational Health, among others.

While Aro concedes that it’s "boring" to work remotely, he says teleworking does not pose a threat to people’s ability to work.

That concern, Aamulehti reports, should be reserved for people who are not able to work remotely.

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