An employee may be mentally unbalanced for many reasons, for work-related or non-work-related issues. Our genes also play a role. Mental health problems always cause harm to the employee and, at the same time, reduce work performance. In the worst cases, they lead to sick leave and a medical diagnosis.
Mental health is perceived as a sensitive issue that is not easily discussed with others. But it is something that needs to be tackled, with courage. The workplace must have policies in place to deal with different situations, for example, through an early intervention model. No one should be left alone. If you notice any changes, ask a colleague how they are doing and if everything is OK, whether you are a supervisor or a peer. The role of the supervisor in these matters is particularly important.
It’s important to take our minds off work for a while.
There are many ways of supporting the employee and adjusting the work to their ability to work. This often requires the help of health professionals. Fortunately, we have a great occupational health system in Finland, where support is available. You can get all sorts of low-threshold help, even with things you may not yet know about.
What we do in our free time also plays a big role. Everyone should have ways of relieving stress caused by information overload or other pressures at work. It’s important to take our minds off work for a while. The importance of sleep cannot be overemphasised either.
With these elements, a workplace is sure to be supportive of mental health.
In August, I was at a municipalities’ seminar in Lappeenranta. There we discussed many fundamental issues of well-being at work: the meaningfulness and significance of work, being seen in the workplace and being present, respect for one’s own and others’ roles and competencies, opportunities for self-fulfilment, servant leadership and open decision-making, and respect for shared values in everyday life. With these elements, a workplace is sure to be supportive of mental health.
I was particularly impressed by the article on author Kalle Päätalo in this magazine. It took me back to my high school days more than 40 years ago, when I read Päätalo’s books from his Koillismaa and Iijoki series. The books are like a therapy that still works for me. I think I’ll have to add the last books of the Iijoki series to my reading list.
Managing Director, The Centre for Occupational Safety