How employers support mental health at the workplace

As an employer, it is your obligation to take care of your employees’ safety and health at work. This includes their mental health. You will succeed by creating good working conditions and supporting your employees if they develop symptoms or mental disorders.

Promote mental health through work ability management

Promoting mental health is part of your workplace’s work ability management. It does not necessarily require you, as an employer, to start up new projects. You promote mental health at your workplace whenever you promote good leadership, successful interaction, the competence of your employees and an environment of caring for one another and bearing responsibility for issues that concern you both individually and collectively.

Read more about work ability management 

Approach mental health risks the same way as other health risks

Promote your employees’ mental health by starting with the content of the work and the working conditions. First consider the psychosocial stressors of the work environment, i.e. the factors related to the content of work and work arrangements and how your work community functions as a social community.

The stressors affect the mental health of your employees. Stress is detrimental when, for example, your employee feels that they have too much or too little workload, too little opportunity to control the pace of the work or when they feel that they must perform the work in difficult conditions.

A psychosocial stressor implies the risk of psychosocial stress. This risk is a mental health risk, i.e. a health risk. That is why you should approach psychosocial stressors the same way as other occupational health and safety risks. 

Did you know?

The number of disability pensions due to mental disorders has increased 25 per cent since 2016. Depression is the single biggest cause of disability pensions. (ETK 2020) 

Many people with depression work part-time of full-time. Work accommodation and supported return to work can significantly enhance recovery from depression.

Manage psychosocial stressors

You cannot eliminate all of your workplace’s risks, including those related to psychosocial stress. Also remember that an approrpiate workload is a good target. You are probably not always able to limit the stressors as much as you would like, so you must accept their existence. Therefore, you should focus on minimising the actualization of the risks caused by these stressors.

You will succeed by first creating the best possible working conditions for your work community: survey and understand the work stressors, promote positive interaction and an encouraging

workplace culture, see to it that the content of the work is interesting and inspiring and that the work is managed and organised equally and fairly.

Once you have fixed the working conditions, it is time to focus on your employees’ resources, competence and capabilities, such as physical fitness, stress and time management and self-management. You should proceed in this particular order, because if the working conditions are not adequate, training the employees alone will not amount to much.

This is how you manage psychosocial stress risks

  • Make sure you know what about the work causes stress. Never be content with the initial, easy impression.
  • Take the risks, i.e. stressors seriously also when the work gets done despite them. It may have ust barely succeeded.
  • Think of ways to adjust the working conditions and the organisation of work so as to avoid any unnecessary stress. 
  • Make sure that the employees have sufficient capabilities and competence to do their work. Also make sure that they are given the opportunity to make use of their capabilities and competence.
  • Make sure you have the required policies and guidelines for work accommodation and flexibility, supervisor authorities and duties and early support. Also make sure that you and your supervisor know how to use these models.
  • Increase your employees’ and supervisors’ capabilities and competence in self-management and stress management. Support physical well-being. 
  • Make sure you have a good occupational health partner and other co-operation partners for the eventuality that your work community faces problems despite your best efforts to manage the risks posed by stress.

Depression is the most common mental disorder. It is also the most common reason for people retiring on disability pension. Being diagnosed with depression does not however always mean being unable to work – quite the opposite: the right amount of work and the work community can provide the best support for recovery.

Every year, 5–7% of Finns are diagnosed with depression. Around every fifth Finn suffers from symptoms that can be diagnosed as depression at some point in their lives. The symptoms of depression usually last for 3–4 months on average.

The attitude you, as an employer, adopt towards your employee’s depression has a significant impact on their ability to continue in their work.

How can you tell someone is depressed?

If your employee develops depression, they may start to isolate themselves and lose their initiative. They may adopt a negative and aggressive attitude and become short-tempered. Your depressed employee may often seem sad and down or be anxious, irritable or teary.

It is good to remember that while irritability or sporting a negative attitude is not necessarily a mental disorder as such, a substantial change in your employee’s behaviour in that direction could indicate depression.

Support depressed employees, refer them to seek professional help

Depression is the single biggest reason for Finns retiring on disability pension. However, being diagnosed with depression does not always mean that your employee is unable to work. Depression can range from mild to severe. How depression affects your employee’s work ability depends on the severity of their depression.

If they are mildly depressed, you can best help them by showing that you understand and accept their situation and support them. Discuss with them about what flexible arrangements could be made to allow them to cope at work. Refer them to talk to occupational health professionals and, if required, organise an occupational health negotiation.

If your employee is severely depressed, it is likely that they will need sick leave, which may be long. Make sure that the supervisor keeps in touch with the employee during the sick leave. Plan the return to work and the necessary measures already before the sick leave ends. When the employee gets back to work,

accommodate their work and lighten it together with your occupational health partner. That not only makes returning to work easier for the employee, but also shows them that you understand and support them, which will help them mentally.

Work and the work community can provide the best support for recovery

Whatever the type of depression your employee is suffering from, you can best help them by giving them the opportunity to work and be part of your work community – and by adapting their workload so that they can cope with it. You can promote the recovery and work ability of your depressed employee by supporting them in getting back to work. Severe depression also requires, in addition to measures carried out at the workplace, timely treatment. Discuss the appropriate treatment models with occupational health services. You can also look into, for example, brief therapy options with the relevant service providers. You can also discuss with your insurance company medical expenses insurances that cover brief therapy.

Read Mental Health Finland’s article on the meaning of depression and its causes (only in Finnish,