Ilmarinen / Work ability / Mental health / Employee
This is how you as an employee can support your mental health at work
Mental health and promoting it are an important part of your work ability. Mental health is impacted by both your own actions and the surrounding conditions. Take care of your resources. If your workload is too much, address the issue with your supervisor.
Mental health is part of work ability
Work ability means having sufficient resources (e.g. health, competence, values, motivation) in relation to the requirements of the work. Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual has the ability to cope with the normal pressures of life, to work in a productive way and to participate in the activities of one’s work community. Fostering and supporting mental health is thus an important part of work ability.
Identify and address workload factors
The requirements of work cause stress. An appropriate amount of workload is part of working and something you cannot or should not try to eliminate completely. Stress is a normal and acceptable part of work. However, prolonged harmful amounts of stress can put your work ability at risk. Harmful workload can be caused by, for example, an excessive amount of work, insufficient possibilities to control, manage or set the pace of the work, or other difficult conditions.
It is the employer’s duty to ensure that the employees’ health or safety is not unnecessarily put at risk, that the risks present in the work have been identified and that the risks are managed through adequate tools, measures and guidelines. As an employee, it is your responsibility to raise any issues, use the provided tools and follow the procedures and guidelines in place.
It is a good idea to discuss your workload with your supervisor and address any situations that you find problematic early on and with a low threshold. Do not allow the situation to become overwhelming. Also do not get discouraged even if the first discussion does not lead to practical measures. Psychological workload may be difficult to detect and evaluate, especially when the work gets done despite the workload.
Take care of your resources
You and your employer are both responsible for identifying and managing your workload. Your employer, your family and friends and your social networks can support your resources, but they cannot take care of them on your behalf.
Important resources that support mental health include, for example:
- a healthy lifestyle, including sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and exercise
- sufficient recovery and relaxation
- meaningful free time
- experiences of meaningfulness
- social support, for example family and friends.
You can also learn and improve skills that support mental health. Stress and time management skills are useful in working life. It is also possible – and advisable – to improve your interaction and emotional skills. Good mental health does not mean that you have no issues or worries. Mental health is, in addition to enjoying your successes, the ability to cope with the difficulties that life throws at you, sufficient management of anxiety and other difficult feelings, and the readiness to face change.
Early support is for your benefit
Every workplace is mandated to have established early support practices. This means that if your supervisor is concerned about your work ability, he or she will take it up for discussion with you. Ideally, these discussions are held with a very low threshold, and caring for employees and asking them how they are doing is part of the workplace culture. The objective of early support is to identify potential issues related to coping and work ability at an early stage and to find the right solutions. Suitable solutions are, for example, reducing the workload and accommodating the division of work or working hours.
People may sometimes find it hard to discuss coping at work when mental health issues are involved. Not many of us are keen to admit that we cannot cope. However, it is good to remember that the early support practices are meant to support your work ability and to proactively prevent more serious work ability issues. They are not meant to evaluate your work performance or you as an employee. Remember that you can initiate the discussion with your supervisor if you are worried about your health or work ability.
Early support is needed if you, your family and friends, your supervisor or your co-workers notice that
- you have difficulties concentrating and make more careless mistakes
- you have difficulties interacting with others
- you have difficulties learning new things
- you have difficulties 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.
Vocational rehabilitation is an option when work ability weakens
Vocational rehabilitation may be an option when your work ability has weakened due to mental health issues and you cannot do your work properly. The objective of rehabilitation is to enable you to continue in working life or return to work after your sick leave.Read more about vocational rehabilitation
Where can you get help?
Addressing issues that occur at work or affect work should start at the workplace. If a mental health issue is related to a work situation, it is also best resolved at the workplace. If the reason is unrelated to the workplace, work ability can be supported by accommodating work or agreeing on flexible arrangements. Several studies have shown that, as a rule, work is good for mental health. If you need measures related to the organisation of work, discuss the matter with your supervisor. In addition to this, workplaces with more than 10 employees always have an occupational health and safety representative, with whom you can discuss harmful workload.
Especially in cases where the situation is prolonged or gets worse and the measures carried out at the workplace do not help, it is advisable to also discuss the issue with a professional. Contact the occupational health services. The occupational health physician or nurse will refer you to an occupational health psychologist. Sometimes it only takes a few visits for things to start sorting themselves out. Discussing the situation with a professional often helps also when there are clear symptoms of stress, but their cause is difficult to identify. You can make an appointment with an occupational health psychologist even if you are not entirely sure that you need help. Compare the situation with what you would do if you were suffering from unpleasant back pain, for example. You would probably make an appointment with a doctor to find out what is causing the pain. Approach mental health the same way as health in general: if you are worried, examine the situation together with a professional.
Occupational health services also help you return to work after a long absence due to illness. Measures taken to support the return to work must always be agreed on at the workplace, but the occupational health services can participate in planning and agreeing on the accommodations that best suit your situation. The occupational health services will also support you after you have returned to work. Furthermore, you can agree on a partial return to work with the occupational health services’ support through partial sickness allowance or a work trial granted by the occupational health services.
In cases of extensive and long-term workload situations, you can also contact the occupational health and safety authorities. They can give you advice in matters related to workload, occupational health and safety and well-being at work.
Also take a look at other themes
Occupational health services are there to support you
Occupational health services support and promote your work ability and functional capacity and act as your partner in rehabilitation matters.Read more about occupational health
Discuss with your supervisor
If you are worried about your work ability, address the issue with your supervisor.Read more about early support