Return to work, work accommodation and mental health

The employer and supervisor can support an employee’s return to work by accommodating the work. Work accommodation in connection with mental disorders consists of both reducing workload and supporting resources. It means accommodating the work to the employee’s work ability. Discuss the various options with the employee.

How can work be accommodated for mental health conditions?

Accommodate work on an individual basis. When an employee has mental disorders, choose the work accommodation methods based on symptoms that make coping at work difficult for the employee. For example, if sleep disorders are the primary symptom and they affect the employee’s ability to concentrate, agree on more flexible working hours if the work in question allows it.

Remember that work accommodation depends on the individual. Agreeing on remote work, for example, may help tackle challenges in concentration, if the employee is able to concentrate on work better at home than at the workplace. However, challenges in concentration may also in some situations be better alleviated by physical presence at the workplace, where help and support in practical matters is more readily available.

Always discuss work accommodation and the various options with the employee first. Remember that work accommodation does not need to be limited to reducing and limiting the work. Work accommodation can also consist of supporting resources. You can increase work resources by, for example, ensuring a quiet workspace, clarifying tasks and encouraging possibilities for regulating mood and emotions.

Consider the work community

Also consider how the work accommodation measures affect the rest of the work community. While you are not allowed to discuss an employee’s health or illness with the work community, you should tell them what kind of work accommodation measures you have agreed on and for how long. Work accommodation measures have been proven to succeed best when they are perceived as fair and justified by the work community.

Once you have agreed on the work accommodation measures with the employee, remember to also agree on how you will evaluate their effectiveness. Especially in the beginning, be sure to monitor regularly, together with the employee, how the accommodated work is going. Evaluate together whether additional accommodation measures are needed or whether there is no longer any need for accommodation.

Remember that work can be accommodated in a wide range of situations. Work can and should be accommodated at an early stage. Work accommodation is often relevant when an employee returns from a long sick leave, partial sickness allowance period or work trial. Work accommodation measures are often agreed for a fixed term. However, some cases may require agreeing on a permanent change in the job profile. For example, shift work is generally not recommended for a person with bipolar disorder.

Examples of ways to accommodate work in mental disorders

Below you can find concrete examples on how you can accommodate work in different situations.

Concentration and memory

  • Limit the tasks so that the employee can focus only on one or a few specific tasks.
  • Cut the tasks into smaller parts.
  • Accommodate goals or schedules.
  • Ensure a peaceful work environment so that employees can focus on work without constant interruptions.
  • Organise working hours: regular or shortened working hours, avoiding overtime, transferring from evening or night shifts to daytime work.
  • Encourage flexible work, for example the possibility to do remote work and divide up vacation times according to one’s needs.
  • Look for alternatives to commuting.

Social situations

  • Name a work-partner or support person for the employee.
  • Give the employee the opportunity to work in a smaller group.
  • Reduce the social workload by, for example, reducing customer interaction or supervisor responsibilities.
  • Give the employee the possibility to leave situations that they do not feel comfortable in.

Regulation of mood and emotions

  • Encourage the employee and give them feedback on their successes.
  • Give the employee the possibility to take enough breaks and recover sufficiently during working hours.
  • If the nature of the work allows it, give the employee the possibility to listen to music while working.
  • Agree on clear work tasks and enable success at work.

Case examples of work accommodation

Below you can find case examples of work accommodation in different jobs and mental disorders.

  1. Sirpa works as a salesperson in a grocery store. She suffers from moderate depressive episode. Sirpa’s symptoms include problems in concentrating, low mood and tiredness. She has agreed with her supervisor that she will work only the day shift for the next two months to prevent her sleep problems from worsening. Sirpa will also not work at the checkout, because it is fast-paced and involves a lot of interaction; instead, she will mainly work at the warehouse and perform assisting tasks.

    The supervisor agrees with Sirpa that they will discuss how the work is going and how the accommodation measures are working. The supervisor schedules the discussions well ahead of time.

  2. Markku works as a specialist in an IT company. He suffers from an anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Markku is afraid of having panic attacks during meetings, on public transport and in situations that put him as the centre of attention. Markku has agreed with his supervisor that he will work mainly remotely because he feels less anxious at home. Markku does not need to give presentations alone, and if required, someone else can step in for Markku.

    Markku’s work has been accommodated so that he only needs to visit customers or come to the workplace once a week. Markku is starting brief psychotherapy, the costs of which will be borne by the employer. He has agreed with the supervisor that they will discuss the work accommodation measures once the therapy has gotten to a good start.

  3. Pertti works as a specialist in a third-sector organisation. He has been diagnosed with burnout and has been on a short sick leave due to a sleep disorder. Although his sleep rhythm has returned to normal, Pertti still has difficulty concentrating and he feels less confident at work than before. Pertti discusses with his supervisor what the most important tasks at work currently are. They agree together on measures to ensure that Pertti will be able to focus on those tasks. All additional and new work requests will pass via Pertti’s supervisor for the next two months. Pertti will regularly monitor the work situation and progress together with his supervisor.

  4. Tarja works as a nurse in three shifts. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Because night work is not recommended for persons with bipolar disorder, Tarja’s work is accommodated so that she only works the morning and evening shifts. If required, the supervisor will discuss with her about transferring to a position with the same employer, which involves only regular daytime working hours.