Workplace communities to promote health
“The workplace community is an underused resource in health promotion. There are also occupational health inequalities between different groups of professionals, and this is something that should be addressed more,” Professor of Occupational Health Tuula Oksanen notes.
Oksanen was invited to the professorship in occupational health at the University of Eastern Finland from 1 April 2020 onwards.
Oksanen is a long-time leader of the Finnish Public Sector Study, Kunta10, at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The study monitors public sector employees’ work and well-being through surveys conducted every two years, and the participating municipalities use the survey data to develop their activities. Five large Finnish cities (Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Turku and Oulu) and their smaller adjoining towns (Raisio, Nokia, Valkeakoski, Naantali and Virrat) have been participating in the study since 1997. Finland’s capital, Helsinki, joined the study in 2014.
“Our latest survey had 65,000 respondents and all professional groups working in the public sector were well represented, offering reliable data on municipalities,” Oksanen says.
Better management is one of the positive trends seen in the public sector.
“People feel that management is increasingly fair and that their superiors support and trust them more.”
“Furthermore, working in roles where our society’s core services are produced is seen as meaningful. People are committed to their work and ready to invest in it. The fact that around 70% of the respondents would recommend a public sector employer to their friends speaks volumes of the sector.”
On the other hand, however, work is changing at an increasing speed and workloads are becoming heavier: 40% of the respondents felt that things have become unbearable.
“It is also highly alarming that 45% of the respondents have encountered violence in their work. The nature of that violence is often psychological, but hitting, kicking and throwing things have also been reported.”
People working in the social welfare and health care sector, and in education, are faced with clients, children and families who have increasingly multiple problems. In the participating cities, training and workplace community development have been used as tools to provide employees with additional skills to deal with difficult situations. Good management has also been observed to reduce, e.g., sleeplessness in teachers who have experienced violence.
Last year was the first time the Kunta10 survey charted ethical loading: are employees faced with ethically challenging situations in their work or do they have to act against the established rules or norms, or their own values. One in three people working in elderly care, and every fifth nurse, child carer and kindergarten teacher estimated that they have to go against their personal values on a weekly basis.
“In working life development, it is important to note that load and risk factors tend to cumulate. Young employees working in the social welfare and health care sector experience violence from their clients most frequently, and their ethical loading is also heaviest. Sick leaves resulting from mental health issues are also common in this group. At the same time, we should make the social welfare and health care sector an increasingly attractive career alternative, and we should also make people’s careers longer,” Oksanen points out.
According to her, health inequalities between different groups of professionals should be addressed more. For instance, there are established differences in sick leaves between different groups of professionals, with some groups having up to four times more sick leaves than others. Managers and teachers take out the least sick days, while employees working in kitchens and health care take out the most.
“Measures geared towards the promotion of work ability and occupational health should seek to diminish these differences.”
“In Helsinki, for example, systematic work ability management has been used to successfully reduce sick leaves in the social welfare and health care sector. The measures used include commitment to models for early support, training in the use of these models, and related monitoring.”
As Professor of Occupational Health, Oksanen plans to focus on occupational health inequalities and on how to reduce sick leaves, as well as on how workplace communities can be used as a resource in health promotion.
“Employees often report that a good workplace community helps them to be resilient in their work. Yet, health promotion recommendations are usually targeted at individuals, not workplace communities.”
The Promo@Work consortium project, which ended recently, produced evidence-based recommendations and tips for health promotion in workplaces, including community-level solutions. The project was funded by the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland.
“This project clearly showed that health promotion measures also need to be tailored to different professions: the requirements and effects of each profession and work need to be taken into consideration. The loading experienced and the needs for change will be different for a family day carer and a fire fighter.”
- Professor of Occupational Health at the University of Eastern Finland, 1 April 2020–
- Born in 1965 in Helsinki
- Lic. Med. 1990, Specialist in Occupational Health 2005, MD 2009, University of Turku
- Docent of Social Epidemiology 2012, University of Turku
- eMBA in Social and Health Management 2015, University of Tampere.
Most important roles
- Chief Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, 2017–
- Occupational Health Specialist 2004–2009, Team Leader of Psychosocial Factors 2009–2010, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard School of Public Health 2010–2011, Team Leader of Psychosocial Factors and Deputy Director of Social Capital 2011–2014, Director of Occupational Health Renewal 2015, Director of Occupational Health Services 2016, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
- Occupational Health Specialist, City of Turku and Medivire, several periods in 1993–2006.
For further information, please contact:
Professor Tuula Oksanen, University of Eastern Finland, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, tuula.oksanen (a) uef.fi, tel. +358 29 445 4087
Print-quality photos of Tuula Oksanen: