Supervisor's occupational health collaboration

Engage in goal-oriented collaboration with your occupational health services. Your occupational health team will help you if you are worried about your employee’s work ability or wondering how you can address a concern.

Occupational health services support your supervisory work

When you are worried about your employee’s work ability or need the insight of a health professional, call or send an email to your workplace’s occupational health nurse or physician. Contact them as soon as possible. When problems persist, they tend to become more complicated and difficult.

Examples of situations where you can ask for support for your supervisory work from occupational health services:

  • You have noticed signs in your employee’s work performance or behaviour that lead you to suspect that they are stressed or suffer from health issues.  
  • You need to discuss your employee’s work ability with them and you would like to have some advice from occupational health services or have them participate in a work ability negotiation.  
  • You suspect that your employee has a substance abuse issue and you would like to have some support for referring them to treatment.  
  • Your employee has a work ability related issue that you would like to have assessed by a specialist in the form of a work ability assessment.  
  • Your coping as a supervisor is at risk and you would like to get guidance and support for work management from an occupational health psychologist.  
  • You need support for resolving conflicts in your work community. 

Your occupational health nurse or physician would be happy to help in these issues. The threshold for contacting them should be low.

Occupational health team at your service

Your occupational health partner assigns you a team comprised of professionals from various fields to give you access to the best specialists. Your workplace’s needs, work load factors and, risks, absences due to illness and their causes determine which professionals you will need in addition to the occupational health physician and nurse.

Your occupational health team is comprised of 

  • an occupational health physician  
  • an occupational health nurse 
  • an occupational physiotherapist  
  • an occupational health psychologist  
  • and often a specialist in social services​. 

The occupational physiotherapist provides you and your employees with advice and guidance on how you can manage the physical work load. If your employee has musculoskeletal problems, the occupational physiotherapist helps you modify your employee’s work.

The occupational health psychologist helps you and your employee in managing the psychosocial work load. The occupational health psychologist also assists you in leadership that supports work ability.

A social services specialist is involved when looking into various support and rehabilitation forms.

Your multiprofessional occupational health team will be complemented by other professionals as required, such as specialists in occupational hygiene, ergonomics, agriculture, occupational sight, nutrition, speech and language therapy, technology and physical activity.

Did you know?

Smooth collaboration with occupational health services makes your supervisory work easier. Collaborate with your workplace’s occupational health services. To reach the maximum benefits, be in active contact with your workplace’s occupational health team in questions related to work ability.

Mental health at the workplace

Mental health challenges are commonplace at workplaces. When you understand how different temporary life crises or longer-term psychological challenges can affect work, you are also able to support your employees’ psychological work ability. Remember that the occupational health nurse, physician and psychologist can also help you with your own work related issues, health and stress management.

Read more about mental health

Occupational health collaboration in a supervisor’s daily work

Below you can find additional information on various topics related to occupational health collaboration, which are part of a supervisor’s daily work.

A workplace survey is an analysis performed by occupational health services of your workplace’s risks, exposures, work load factors and resources, and their importance for your employees’ health and work ability. A workplace survey forms the basis for the whole occupational health collaboration. Based on it, you plan your future cooperation. The more active you are as a supervisor, the more you get out of it.

Purpose of the workplace survey

  • You know your work and your working conditions. The occupational health services, for their part, can evaluate their relevance for the health and work ability of your employees. The occupational health services give recommendations for measures to manage the risks caused by work and improve occupational safety.
  • The workplace survey allows the occupational health team to get to know your working conditions, your work and your work environment. That way, they can take work-related factors into account in their activities, such as work ability assessments and rehabilitation.
  • The needs and challenges revealed during the survey will be taken into account when planning and describing the content of your occupational health collaboration in the action plan.

Steps of the workplace survey

  1. In the preliminary survey, the occupational health team collect preliminary data on your workplace. It often begins with a questionnaire filled in by the employer, the supervisors or the entire personnel. If the questionnaire is meant for everybody, you have an important role in encouraging employees to respond so that as many people as possible can make their voice heard and the questionnaire provides comprehensive data on the work. They can also ask you to provide various documents, such as a risk assessment, a chemicals list and safety data sheets, previous reports and measurement results.

  2. The occupational health team visits your workplace. In most cases, the occupational health nurse and/or physician will be present. The composition of the team depends on the work you perform. If your work is physically strenuous, the team often also includes an occupational physiotherapist. If your work involves psychological stressors, the team may include an occupational health psychologist. Key to the workplace survey is that you arrange and schedule the visit so that the occupational health representatives get to see what ordinary work is like at the workplace. It is important for you to actively participate in the workplace survey. Express your views and ask questions.

  3. The workplace survey report describes your workplace’s main risks and work load factors and their significance for your employees’ health and work ability. Go over the report with both occupational health team and your employees. Think about how you will implement and schedule the measures and monitor the impacts. Your employees must be given the opportunity to read a written workplace survey report.

Communicate about the workplace survey to the employees

It is important for you to show your employees, that the workplace survey will be carried out for their own good and for the benefit of the entire workplace. Also show that you are interested in the proposals included in the survey. It makes your employees feel that you are interested in their views and well-being and that you are ready to make changes to their work and work environment to maintain and improve their work ability.

Read more about the workplace survey

The action plan is your workplace’s and occupational health team’s shared view of the contents of your occupational health services. The plan specifies the services you have bought from the occupational health service provider. It also specifies what kind of occupational health collaboration you have agreed on and what targets have been set for the collaboration. The plan is drawn up by the occupational health services together with your workplace’s representative.

Familiarise yourself with the action plan. Thanks to it, you will be able to provide your employees with advice when it comes to work ability and health issues and to act in different situations.

Read more about the action plan

Early support of work ability means that you support employees’ work ability and prevent it from weakening in the long run.

With early support, you can improve your employees’ work performance, commitment and productivity and reduce costs and other consequences arising from absences due to illness or disability. Early support is most efficient when the workplace has shared practices that the whole work community and the occupational health services adhere to. 

Address issues related to your employee’s work ability immediately when you become concerned about their performance. By being alert and bringing up work ability related concerns as early as possible, you will have more means at your disposal and you can prevent the issue from escalating.

Familiarise yourself with your workplace’s early support model, i.e. how you and the other supervisors at your workplace should act. This ensures that you all act consistently for the benefit of your employees and your entire workplace.

Read more about early support for work ability

Take a look at the instructions on how to bring up a difficult issue

The work ability assessment is an assessment of your employee’s work ability and state of health impacting it. It consists of comparing your employee’s functional capacity to the demands of their job. The assessment is carried out by the occupational health physician, assisted by the rest of the occupational health team.

The objective of the work ability assessment is to help your employee, yourself and your occupational health team to plan your employee’s work so that they can retain or improve their work ability. With appropriate modifications to the workload, the employee is usually able to continue working despite their health issues.

Request a work ability assesment written

Request a work ability assessment from the occupational health services if your employee’s work ability has declined. Request shall be written. Preferably use the form provided by your workplace or your occupational health services. Always tell your employee yourself that you are going to request a work ability assessment so that it will not come as a surprise to them when the occupational health team contact them.

Specify in your request:

  1. the situation or the events that have raised your concerns 
  2. the issues related to your employee’s work ability that you have discussed with your employee 
  3. your own and your employee’s view of the situation.

The work ability assessment process varies somewhat, because it is always carried out individually depending on the employee’s situation. It often starts with the occupational health nurse interviewing the employee and requesting documents from the places where your employee has been examined and treated. The actual work ability assessment is always carried out by an occupational health physician. Sometimes the assessment can be completed within a couple of weeks, but if statements from different specialists and other professionals are required, it will take longer. You can ask the occupational health team to give you an estimate of how long it will take to get the assessment.

Once the work ability assessment is ready, the occupational health physician will first disclose the results to your employee. Sometimes they hand out the assessment form to the employee, asking them to give it to you, but many times the result will be reviewed in a work ability negotiation, i.e. an occupational health negotiation, involving you, your employee and a member of the occupational health team, often a physician.

The written assessment must not contain your employee’s health information; it only states the conclusions as to the employee’s work ability in relation to their job and possibly a description of the need for support or modifications to the work.

A work ability negotiation i.e. occupational health negotiation means a discussion concerning your employee’s work ability issues. It involves at least your employee, yourself and a member of your occupational health team. The discussion can be initiated by any one of the three of you.

Conduct a work ability negotiation, for example, when:

  • your employee is returning to work after a long sick leave period  
  • your employee needs assistive devices or other work arrangements to cope at work 
  • your employee’s work ability has declined and their work ability has been assessed.

The work ability negotiation parties

You should involve one or more members of your occupational health team in the work ability negotiation, because they have the best picture of your employee’s work ability. Usually, the occupational health physician is present in the negotiation, sometimes the occupational health nurse. Depending on your employee’s situation, an occupational health psychologist or occupational physiotherapist can also participate in the discussion.

Your employee can, if they wish, bring a support person with them, for example a workplace steward.

Discussing work ability and reaching an agreement

In the work ability negotiation, you, your employee and a member of your occupational health team discuss your employee’s work ability and functional capacity in relation to the demands of their work. Focus on thinking of ways to support their work ability at the workplace. Discuss your employee’s state of health only if they give you the permission to do so.

The work ability negotiation ends with the three of you agreeing together on what each of you will do and when. Also agree how and when you will follow up the measures and write this information down in a memorandum. Hold a follow-up discussion later and assess whether the measures were sufficient or whether further analyses or a new work ability negotiation are required.

Watch the video to see a typical situation in which a work ability negotiation should be conducted.