Employer – be proactive

The most efficient way to promote mental health is by being proactive. Identify work stressors and impact them. Take into account your employees’ individual situations, increase resources that promote mental health and support their work-life balance.

Manage the psychosocial risks of work

As an employer, it is your duty to identify and understand the psychosocial stressors of your workplace. These stressors are mental health risks, i.e. health risks. You can analyse them in the workplace surveys and OHS risk assessments carried out together with your occupational health partner. You can identify and analyse stressors also by familiarising yourself with the results of personnel surveys and development discussions and by talking to your workplace’s supervisors and employees.

Getting to know the stressors early on is being proactive. It allows you to make changes at the workplace and prepare for possible problem situations before the stressors cause unnecessary harm.

Look at the big picture

When getting to know and learning how to identify the psychosocial stressors at your workplace, it is essential that you look at the big picture and not just the details. Psychosocial stress is caused by a number of other things besides haste, the workload and profit pressure. Avoid making presumptions; analyse the situation as it appears at your workplace. When analysing the stressors, you can also see which ones are not harmful and which ones are well under control. At the same time, you get to know your workplace’s resources.

This table shows you what you should pay attention to and what psychosocial stressors may be present at your workplace.

Job content Lack of variety or short work cycles,
fragmented or meaningless work, under use of skills,
high uncertainty, continuous exposure to people through work
Workload and work pace Work overload or under load, machine pacing,
high levels of time pressure, continually subject to deadlines
Work schedule Shift working, night shift, inflexible work schedules,
unpredictable hours, long or unsociable hours
Control Low participation in decision making,
lack of control over workload, pacing, shift working etc.
Environment and equipment Inadequate equipment availability, suitability or maintenance;
poor environmental conditions such as lack of space,
poor lighting, excessive noise
Organisational culture and function Poor communication, low levels of support
for problem solving and personal development,
lack of definition of, or agreement on, organisational objectives
Interpersonal relationships at work Social or physical isolation, poor relationships
with superiors or co-workers, interpersonal conflict,
lack of social support
Role in organisation Role ambiguity, role conflict and responsibility for people
Career development Career stagnation and uncertainty,
under promotion or over promotion, poor pay,
job insecurity, low social value of work
Home-work interface Conflicting demands of work and home,
low support at home, dual career problems

Build a supportive workplace culture based on trust

Awareness of mental health issues in our society is increasing. Thanks to this, your employees may also feel more comfortable talking about them. Nevertheless, many people choose not to tell others about their problems because they feel ashamed or afraid of being labelled as weak or weird.

Your distressed employee may try to soldier on and hide their symptoms to ignore them. It is very common that they do not see or understand their symptoms and how they affect their behaviour, work performance and interaction. Hiding symptoms may become problematic especially if your workplace culture emphasises top performance, a positive attitude, cheerfulness and coping.

As an employer, you have a great impact on your culture

What is the culture like at your workplace? How well does it support your employees’ mental and physical health? Is it permitted to talk about problems? Are problems addressed when they are brought up?

Build for your workplace orkplace culture that permits feelings, adversities and difficulties. Strive to make it normal and acceptable to ask for and receive support for difficult situations with a low threshold, whether the difficulties are physical or mental. Make it easy for your employees to reach out for help from occupational health services or elsewhere outside the workplace, but remember that, even if help is sought from outside, the measures carried out at the workplace are still important.

When your workplace culture is based on trust and good will, every single employee will feel comfortable talking about their successes, as well astheir problems and difficulties. However, your employees may find it easier to talk about their personal affairs, thoughts and feelings with their colleagues than with their supervisors. That is why it is important that everyone at the workplace knows what to do with mental health issues, what kind of support they can get from their supervisor, from your workplace and from occupational health services.

Make sure that supervisors have the skills, expertise and support for leading their employees. Also make sure that work offers your employees resources and maintains them.

Culture is built with actions. It stems from the way people behave and their perception of how things work. That is why every workplace has some kind of an workplace culture. If it is not deliberately built, it emerges spontaneously. As the employer’s representative, you play a crucial role in creating your culture, not only as a decision-maker, but also, more importantly, as a role model. When you wish to build a supportive culture based on trust for your workplace, follow these rules:

  1. Keep plans and targets realistic and communicate them clearly
  2. Receive and embrace feedback
  3. Address the problems and issues raised; do something about them
  4. Communicate and discuss with your employees when plans change 
  5. Make sure that what you say is consistent with what you do
  6. Identify, bring up and challenge your company’s ways of operating that have become matter of course and unwritten rules. For example, do you always 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 insufficient resources? Is the work characterised by constant time pressure?

Our specialists can provide help in building an operating culture that promotes work ability and well-being.

Read more about building trust at the workplace

Take care of work-life balance

Make sure that your employees can have a fulfilling life outside work. Employees with a good work-life balance find it easier to manage work-related stress and they maintain a sufficient level of resources. As an employer, you can promote this balance in many ways.

Examples of useful measures include: 

  •  flexible working hours, sabbatical leave, etc.   
  • remote work   
  • a family-friendly organisation, e.g. no meetings after 4 pm   
  • a supportive culture that allows supervisors and employees to achieve a work-life balance e.g. through coaching and employee support programmes 
  • personnel development, including part-time employees
  • support for returning to work after parental leave  
  • support for childcare or care for the elderly  
  • a child-parent room or a room for breastfeeding  
  • a company-wide family day  
  • communication about matters related to stress and work-life balance   
  • “a work detox” approach on holiday – going on holiday without a mobile phone or laptop

Source: THL: Mielenterveyden edistäminen työpaikalla 2014 (Promoting mental health at the workplace)

When your employee presents psychological symptoms in spite of proactive measures

Managing stress and risks and increasing employees’ resources are fundamental for promoting mental health. If an employee presents symptoms despite these, you can best support your employee’s mental health with early support measures at the workplace. This means supporting your employees’ work ability and preventing it from weakening in the long run. Key early support measures include the monitoring of absences due to illness, support for returning to work after long periods of sick leave and early support discussions held by the supervisor in case of repeated or prolonged absences or if the employee’s work ability otherwise causes concern.

Make use of early support activities at your workplace. Agree on early support practices and policies together so that all supervisors and employees are familiar with them and take an interest in them. Keep the practices, policies and the early support model up to date and ensure that everyone at your workplace knows how to use them and act in accordance with them.