Supervisor – take action

Build a dialogue based on trust. When dialogue becomes a shared practice at your workplace, it is also easier to talk about problem situations.

Monitor your work community

One of your tasks as a supervisor is to keep a finger on the pulse of your work community and ways of working, i.e. the mood at your workplace, the well-being of employees and the safety of your work methods.

When you pay attention to your employees’ excessive stress levels and possible psychological symptoms early on and with a low threshold, you can address the situation at an early stage when the issues are still minor and easier to solve.

The best way for you to identify your employees’ stress, symptoms and disorders is to talk to them. Therefore, you should hold one-on-one discussions with them often enough. Listen to what your employees tell you in team meetings and daily interactions. Read the results of personnel surveys and talk about them with your employees. Also conduct development discussions but do not rely on them as the only form of one-on-one discussions.

Refer employees to professional help but do not outsource problem-solving

You can best help your employee who presents psychological symptoms when you know

  1. what you as a supervisor can and cannot do
  2. when you must talk about professional help to your employee
  3. when you must refer them to seek professional help and where this help is available from: physician, psychologist, couples therapist, social worker or someone else.

Find the practical instructions below.

As a supervisor, you can help your employee by bringing up their situation at the workplace, offering support and understanding and discussing the required work arrangements. If this support is not enough, tell your employee what professional help is available or refer them to talk to a professional.

Providing information about professional help may be enough when your employee’s symptoms are mild. In that case, they may not necessarily notice them themselves or want to seek professional help. That is why it is important that you bring it up. Tell the employee that you are concerned about their situation and that you understand and accept their feelings. Tell them that talking to a professional outside the workplace is often useful. You can say that it is better to try talking to a professional counsellor and then decide if there is need to continue. Tell your employee that if they get help in time, they will recover faster and face a reduced risk of their symptoms worsening or recurring.

Refer an employee to professional help when their symptoms have persisted for a long period or are affecting their work performance or daily life. Encourage them to primarily seek help from occupational health services. You can agree with them that you will also contact the occupational health representative and provide an account of the situation from the workplace’s viewpoint. If the workday is cut short, reassure your employee that work will be taken care of.

Encourage your employee to have a discussion with you concerning their situation afterwards. If you wish, you can get assistance and advice from occupational health services. You can also agree on a work ability negotiation, i.e. an occupational health negotiation, which is a meeting between the employee, occupational health physician, nurse or psychologist, if the employee gives their consent. You should take the initiative and request an occupational health negotiation from the occupational health services.

Read more about measures at the workplace

Your responsibilities and opportunities to solve the problem do not end once the employee has met with a professional counsellor. Quite the contrary: your role will become more important. Suitable work accommodation coupled with support from the workplace and work community promote recovery and make it easier for employees to successfully return to work from sick leave. To support your employee in the best possible way:

  1. If your employee takes sick leave, keep in touch with them and agree on a date and time for a discussion.
  2. Together with the employee, try to find ways to accommodate their work so that they can do it successfully. If necessary, organise an occupational health negotiation.
  3. Show, through what you say and do, that you support your employee.
  4. Also make sure that other employees and the entire work community support them.
  5. Respond to mental disorders just as you would to any other health problem

Agree on work accommodation together with the employee and support them

Working, successes and return to work are important for your employee’s recovery. Your employee can continue working even if their work ability has declined. It is all about making the job’s demands and opportunities match the employee’s work ability. You will succeed in this if you accommodate their job and support them.

What is work accommodation?

Work accommodation means adjusting or modifying work tasks or working conditions and supporting an employee’s resources when psychological or physical symptoms impair their work performance. When work needs to be accommodated for physical reasons, you and your employee know, for example, what your employee is supposed to do if they are not allowed to lift heavy loads. You may even have in place instructions on these types of physical adjustments. You can accommodate work for mental health reasons following exactly the same principles and agree on related practices.

Discuss with your employee and suggest work accommodation whenever your employee’s work ability has declined or when they are returning to work after a long absence due to illness. Avoid making assumptions on the need for accommodation and be sure to agree on any accommodations together with your employee. Ask questions, listen to the employee, discuss the need for accommodation and make proposals.

This is how you can accommodate your employee’s work

When accommodating an employee’s work, you can, for example:

  • Reduce your employee’s workload: limit work tasks, put customer interaction on hold, etc. 
  • Reinforce resources, such as your employee’s opportunities to influence their work and pace of work. 
  • Increase the flexibility of working hours or agree on changing the working hours for a fixed term. 
  • Give the employee the opportunity to concentrate and work in peace; provide an appropriate work space for your employee. Why not try remote work? 
  • Facilitate work-related social situations by, for example, proposing a transfer to a smaller team or ensuring that the employee is not left alone in a situation involving customers. 
  • Create good working conditions so that your employee has the energy to control their mood and emotions. 
  • Make time for conversations where you support your employee’s self-confidence and motivation. 
  • Agree with the employee on a support person at the workplace who they can turn to if required. 
  • Monitor your employee’s situation and talk about it with them; if necessary, make more adjustments to their work.

If these measures carried out at the workplace are not enough, reach out to occupational health services. An occupational health nurse, physician or psychologist can help you to, for example, conduct an occupational health negotiation, i.e. a discussion with the employee, and provide guidance in applying for support measures, such as the partial sickness allowance. If these are not enough, turn to us. Your employee can apply to Ilmarinen for vocational rehabilitation, for instance a work trial, where they try doing their old job in a new way or doing an entirely new job.

The mere knowledge that work can be accommodated may help

If your employee only has mild psychological symptoms, you telling them that these kinds of accommodations are possible at your workplace can already make them feel better. Once you have talked to them, agree together when you will discuss their situation again. That shows your employee that you are there for them without them needing to ask you for help. Be sure to hold the agreed discussions even if everything is going or seems to be going well. If the employee’s situation gets worse, meet earlier.

Propose accommodating the work and adjust it preferably too soon rather than too late. When you make frequent adjustments to work at your workplace, they become part of your normal activities. That way you and the other supervisors can ease your employees’ concerns and fears of being labelled if they have difficulty coping and are struggling with mental health issues.

When your employee is able to do their work and gets to experience the joy of succeeding, work provides an important support and resource for them.

Three tips for building a good culture of dialogue

  1. Build trust, give and ask for feedback. Ask people how they are doing, listen to them and be present.
  2. Act as an example. Show what respecting other people and caring for them means in everyday life. 
  3. Bring up any changes in your employee’s behaviour if it causes you concern.