Early support activities

Early support improves the work ability of your employees. That is why it is also financially profitable. Make early support activities part of your company’s work ability management. We provide you with instructions for planning and carrying them out.

Start using early support

As an employer or the representative of an employer, it is your duty to ensure that work flows smoothly and work performance is well-managed. That is why you should ensure that your workplace starts up early support activities. Encourage supervisors, employees and occupational health service representatives to think about which early support practices are suitable for your workplace and to select the best ones for you. In a large company, discuss this in a working group that consists of representatives of management, different personnel groups, occupational health services, shop stewards and OHS representatives.

Early support activities help you to

  • boost your employees’ ability to cope at work 
  • reduce the amount of sick leave and disability, as well as the costs they entail  
  • assist supervisors and employees to quickly deal with concerns and problems, 
  • support employees’ return to work after a sick leave.

Early support is considered important enough to be governed by legislation.

Build a permissive workplace culture based on trust

Build an workplace culture that permits feelings, adversity and difficulties. Strive to make it totally normal and acceptable to ask for and receive support for difficult situations with a low threshold. Ensure that the threshold for receiving occupational health services or other external help to support work ability is as low as possible.

Behaviour is the foundation for the culture

Workplace culture is built on behaviour. A culture changes when certain behaviours, or approaches, are repeated and when they bring the desired results. Changing the workplace culture requires goal-oriented, long-term and persevering action not only from you but also from the whole organisation, because a culture only changes when all of you act in a new way.

You can start with open and understandable communication and treating your employees fairly. Also make sure you yourself walk the talk, and that you act according to your company’s values.

Five tips on how to change a culture

Below are five tips on how to build a permissive culture based on trust:

  1. Keep plans and goals realistic and communicate them clearly
  2. Ask for feedback and show that you embrace it.
  3. Report also on unfinished issues and talk about them with your employees, especially if plans change.
  4. Do as you say, because people will notice the contradiction.
  5. Identify, bring up and challenge your company’s ways of operating that have become matter of course and unwritten rules. For example, do you go along with customers’ requests, including the unrealistic ones? Do your employees rise to the challenge time and time again, while having repeatedly raised concerns over a shortage of resources? Is the work characterised by constant time pressure?

Boost people’s positive experience of their workplace and work. When the workplace culture is based on trust and good will, it gives everyone the courage to bring up problems and difficulties while they are still small. Also make sure that your supervisors have the skills, expertise and support to build a permissive and constructive culture. 

Did you know?

Early support activities can help you save in costs. Problems don’t get the chance to become serious when supervisors and employees bring up work ability issues early on. Each of you has several solutions at your disposal and problems do not need to lead to absences due to illness or disability.

Find support in your occupational health services partner

As an employer or employer’s representative, you are responsible for how early support activities will be adopted at your company. Make sure that the supervisors and employees understand what early support activities mean and that they agree on which early support practices they will adopt. Also make sure that co-operation between your company’s management and occupational health services is regular and goal-oriented. Good co-operation gives occupational health services a clear understanding of how successful early support is at your company and is able to give your company support. 

Your job is to support employees whose work ability is at risk of weakening. If the support your workplace offers is not enough for your employee, they can receive help from occupational health services.

Read more about occupational health collaboration

Make early support practices part of work ability management

Early support activities are part of work ability management, which helps you improve your employees’ work ability. Early support activities are based on planning and proactiveness. Support the implementation of agreed-on practices, monitor the impacts and manage work ability risk.

Next, take a look at some planning and monitoring tools.

Early support activities are based on collaborative planning

Start up early support activities through collaborative planning. Supervisors, employees and occupational health services partner should all participate in the planning. When you plan the early support activities together, it makes for successful practices and ensures that employees commit to them and actually use them.

First, look into the current situation, i.e. your employees’ work ability and the reasons impacting it. Then think about what you want to achieve with the early support activities and set shared, concrete and achievable targets. Finally, define the key figures that describe work ability, which will help you monitor the achievement of the targets.

Assess the current situation using questions

Sick leave

  • How large is your company’s sick leave percentage? 
  • What are the reasons for sick leave at your company?
  • What is the accident frequency, i.e. how often do workplace accidents occur?
  • How do employees report their absences due to illness, to whom and when?
  • Are employees required to have a certificate from a physician or nurse or is self-reporting enough? 
  • If self-reporting is enough, how many days can they be absent without having to provide a certificate?
  • Can they report their absences due to their children’s illness in the same way?
  • Are absences resulting from their children’s illness considered separate from other absences?

Workplace practices

  • Are the practices for sick leave the same throughout the organisation?
  • Does everyone follow the shared practices? 
  • In addition to absences due to illness, do you monitor other signs indicating a possible weakening of work ability?
  • If you monitor other weakening of work ability, what do you monitor, who does the monitoring and how? 

Occupational health services and other partners

  • What operators belong to your company’s early support partners? Partners include supervisors, HR, the OHS committee, occupational health services, the earnings-related pension company, Kela and the non-life insurance company. 
  • What key figures do you use to monitor absences due to illness and other early support? 
  • What is the number of disability pensions at your company? 
  • If you are a large company, what is your contribution category? As a large company you have a contribution category that depends on how many have retired on disability pension from your company. The contribution category impacts your pension contribution, i.e. TyEL contribution amount.
  • What are your occupational health service costs? What are the costs of your preventive activities (Kela 1) and medical care (Kela 2)?
  • What are your productivity goals?

HR management

  • What is your personnel turnover? 
  • Do supervisors have good people management competencies?
  • Do supervisors have sufficient time to ensure good people management?

Plan the goals and practices together

After looking into the current situation, plan the goals for early support activities. Define the alert limits for absences and how to monitor them. Plan together with the supervisors, employees and occupational health services partner what the goals will be for the early support activities, in other words what you want to achieve with the activities. Then set the targets for key figures with what you are planning to monitor the implementation.

Discuss these questions to build practices

  • How can you build a culture of trust where people raise concerns in time? 
  • How do you monitor the implementation of the work accommodations?
  • What are your goals for reducing absences due to illness?
  • What targets will you set for a successful return to work?  
  • What are your goals for vocational rehabilitation?  
  • How do you wish to impact the number of disability pensions and/or the earnings-related pension contribution category?

Support the adoption of the agreed-on practices

When your early support activity plan is ready, start using it. Describe the activities in the early support model. It outlines which issues are whose responsibility. As an employer, your most important task is to promote a permissive work culture where each person can discuss work ability and the related concerns.

Your job is also to 

  • steer and encourage supervisors and employees to take early support practices into active use in daily life
  • arrange orientation and training for supervisors for early support activities 
  • encourage supervisors to involve occupational health services in early support practices when work ability risks are related to the employees’ health
  • familiarise the personnel with early support activities
  • forward information of an employee’s absences due to illness to occupational health services when it has continued for a month.

Commit to the agreed practices together with the personnel. You will succeed when you act as an example. 

Remember that your employees may find it easier to talk about difficult subjects with co-workers, such as about their life situation, issues, thoughts and feelings. That is why it is important for everyone at the workplace to know what kind of support measures are available when required.

Monitor the impacts and manage your work ability risk

Monitor how early support works as part of your company’s work ability risk management. To do this, you should ensure that you know your company’s sick leave percentages, reasons for absences due to illness, the number of disability pensions and the TyEL contribution category and other key figures related to work ability. Also monitor their development. Monitor both long-term and short-term sick leave cases as frequently as possible to assess the impacts and achieve the goals effectively.

Use the following questions to assess the impacts

  • Absences due to illness
    • short (1–3 days, 1+9 days), long (more than three days or 10 days and more) 
    • diagnoses: grouped by age group, department, job
  • Implementation of early support activities
    • How does the current model work? Is it necessary to update it? 
    • What is the number of early support and return to work discussions in the follow-up period?
    • Feedback from discussions
    • The implementation of the work accommodations and other measures carried out based on the discussions.
  • Number of vocational rehabilitation cases and their success rates
  • Number of disability pensions
  • Earnings-related pension insurance contribution category

You can also delegate the monitoring of early support activities to the co-operation or OHS committee, reinforced with your occupational health service representative and other necessary persons. The committee will report to you and other management.

Take a look at the rehabilitation process for employers