Early support for self-employed persons’ work ability

Early support means that if you are worried about your work ability, you can address the issue with an occupational health professional. In your shared discussion, you can agree on how you can support your work ability or return to work if you have to take a longer sick leave.

Look after your work ability

Your work ability is a vital condition and a resource for your business. That is why you need to look after your work ability at least as well as you would look after your employee’s work ability. For you, early support activities  means that you have agreed with the occupational health services on what measures could help support your work ability and prevent the weakening of your work ability in the long term. Early support is part of the statutory activities of occupational health services. You do not need to buy medical care from occupational health services to receive this support. 

Everyone gets ill from time to time and that gives them the right to be absent from workOur overall work ability also varies during our careers. This is completely normal. Early support is there to prevent temporary or permanent disability and support your income, allowing you to return to work from an absence smoothly, and continue in your job as long as possible, hopefully until your retirement age. Read more about what to do if you fall ill. 

Observe tacit signals in yourself

You can observe so-called tacit signals in yourself, which indicate that everything is not fine. They are small signs that start to show well before the actual symptoms or issues. These same small sings can be observed in you by your family member, supervisor, co-worker, or customer.

You or your family members can notice that

  • you have difficulty concentrating and make more careless mistakes  
  • you have difficulty interacting
  • you have difficulty learning new things
  • you have difficulty remembering or understanding things   
  • you struggle to get your work done within normal working hours  
  • you struggle to meet your deadlines and keep your promises  
  • your work motivation has weakened 
  • you experience unusual fatigue after a workday  
  • you neglect to take care of yourself. 

Agree with your occupational health service provider on practices for arranging, with a low threshold, an early support discussion with an occupational health professional, if you, your family members, friends, or customers have noticed any changes in your behaviour either during your free time or at work. Often the changes show up in your free time first, so take your family’s and friends’ concerns seriously.

The goal of an early support discussion is to find solutions to ease your situation together – as early as possible. The earlier your address the issue, the better you can prevent it from becoming an issue that impacts your work, your income and perhaps the rest of your life.

Make an appointment for an early support discussion

Contact your occupational health services to agree on the need for an early support discussion, its date and time and its topic. Set aside enough time, for example an hour-long appointment, for the discussion with the occupational health professional. It is important for you to have a confidential relationship with them and to be able to freely discuss your situation. The most natural option would be to discuss things with your occupational health physician or nurse. Remember that you can also turn to the occupational physiotherapist or occupational health psychologist. 

When you start the discussion, review what you wish to discuss. Your goal is to get things to go smoothly in the future. Explain your view of the situation and what the solutions could be. The occupational health professional will bring to the discussion their expertise in the connection between work and health and their experience of viable solutions. 

You will most likely have to make changes in your work or working conditions. Discuss the necessary decisions, for example, work accommodation measures or working hours solutions. Also discuss any need for assistance. You may need the support of, for example, an occupational physiotherapist in accommodating your work. Ask the occupational health services’ representative to write down the key points of the discussion and especially the solutions, practices and monitoring you agreed on.

Agree together

  • what measures should be taken in your work   
  • what kind of support you need from occupational health services 
  • how you will monitor what you have agreed on.

Sometimes, one discussion is not enough. In this case it is important to continue the discussion and arrange a new meeting. In this next meeting, you can already discuss on solutions.

Your situation may also be such that your challenges are outside of work but have an impact on your work. In that case, it worth discussing on how your situation could be taken into account at your work so that you can get over the most difficult stage. Sometimes just discussing things with an occupational health professional can be helpful.

Support your return to work

It is important to remember that sometimes recovery means being absent from work and giving yourself time to recover. Falling ill does not always mean you have to be away from work. It can also be possible or even beneficial to continue working. Research shows that, in some illnesses, continuing to work within one’s own resources supports recovery. You can then carry out measures at your workplace that you have agreed on with the occupational health services, which support your possibilities to work and your recovery. These can be, for example, the possibility to use flexible working hours, work remotely or acquire an assistive device for work. This can support your recovery and ability to continue at work. This can help you recover and cope at work. Discuss work accommodation with an occupational health professional.

If you must be absent from work for a lengthy period because of an illness, your contact person from the occupational health services can stay in touch with you. This is sensible especially at the start of a long sick leave or if you suffer from burnout or depression. This will guarantee you the best support possible for your recovery.

When you regularly discuss things with an occupational health professional, it will also feel comfortable to discuss your return to work. Bring it up for discussion well before your sick leave ends. Together, plan how your work needs to be accommodated and what other support measures may be needed.

If your work ability has weakened due to your state of health, ask the occupational health services for an assessment of your work ability. You can ask your own occupational health physician to perform the assessment. Also, if you have not acquired occupational health services for yourself, it is worth making an appointment with a private occupational health physician. A physician specialising in occupational health can carry out a comprehensive assessment of your work ability and state of health impacting it. Sometimes the assessment will be quick, but sometimes the opinions from specialised physicians or other professionals may be needed, which may cause the assessment to take longer.

Work accommodation means measures that help match the work with your altered work ability and functional capacity. Work accommodation is one of the most important measures for supporting you in continuing at work or returning to it after a long sick leave.

You can accommodate your work temporarily at first. Temporary work accommodation is sensible when you are returning to work as a convalescent or when you are not sure how you will cope at work. This allows you to recover while doing your work. If you have a permanent injury or disability, you can accommodate your work permanently from the very start. Discuss together with the occupational health representative which tasks you can do and which you can’t and how you could accommodate them to be suitable.

You can accommodate your work as follows:

  • Restrict your tasks so that you can focus only on one or more specific tasks.  
  • Divide the tasks into smaller parts.  
  • Adjust your goals or schedule your work to be less stressful.  
  • Get yourself a support person or mentor.  
  • Quieten down the work environment so that you can focus on work without continuous interruptions.  
  • Organise your working hours: shorten your working hours, aim for regular working hours, avoid overtime, move from evening and night work to daytime work.  
  • Make the work flexible, i.e., work remotely and divide up vacation days.  
  • Develop your competence.  
  • Ensure that the work environment is accessible.  
  • Look for alternatives to commuting.  
  • Acquire assistive devices or suitable tools for working.

Despite these support measures, you may not be able to return to your former duties. Keep an open mind and consider whether you would be ready to transfer to a sector where you would be able to work. Consider your situation and viable options from many angles and think about what the consequences would be for you and your income if you are not able to continue in your work or in working life. 

As a self-employed person you too can receive rehabilitation. For self-employed persons, vocational rehabilitation supported by Ilmarinen can be, for example, a work trial that you carry out in your company. In a work trial, you accommodate your working hours and tasks to better suit your health. Work trials usually last three months.

Vocational rehabilitation can also take the form of job coaching. It allows you to learn new tasks hands-on. You can also complete courses as part of your job coaching. The contents and duration of the job coaching will be tailored to your needs and your situation. You will receive rehabilitation allowance or a cash rehabilitation benefit and increment during your rehabilitation. We can also grant as vocational rehabilitation a business subsidy for buying different assistive devices and equipment so that you can accommodate your entrepreneurial activities to better suit your state of health.

If you cannot continue your self-employment due to your health, your vocational rehabilitation can take the form of studies. Retraining allows you to train for a new profession.

Read more about vocational rehabilitation for the self-employed

If Ilmarinen cannot provide you with vocational rehabilitation, you may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation from Kela. You can also apply to Kela for other rehabilitation that supports work ability.

Take a look at rehabilitation provided by Kela (kela.fi)

Monitor the impacts

Discuss with an occupational health professional how you are doing and how the measures carried out at the workplace have supported you in coping at work. Be active and participate in the discussion. This will help you develop your work and look after your work ability going forward.