Ensuring a smooth start to working life

A growing concern in the workplace: mental health issues are on the rise and challenging young people’s working ability - how can workplaces support young adults’ mental health and well-being?

The Nordic countries are among the happiest nations in the world, so can the subject even concern us?

Mental health issues have become a major concern at both the company and societal level as the 2020’s has progressed. In fact, mental health disorders are the most common cause of temporary and permanent occupational disabilities in the Nordic countries, thus it’s crucial to consider ways to support mental health in every organisation. In 2019, mental health issues were already the second most common cause of sick leave. Furthermore, sick leave due to mental health issues tends to be longer in duration than other causes.

Alarmingly, around 80% of work disabilities among people under 35 years of age are now due to mental health disorders. Young adults are at higher risk of developing mental health issues in the workplace than older employees. Many young adults experience more insecurity about their skills and personal pressure to succeed at work than previous generations. Around 44% of young people feel they are not sufficiently prepared for the transition from academic settings to a work environment.

Early intervention and treatment of mental health issues is challenging due to slow access to public mental health services. It is estimated that one third of people with mental health issues do not receive professional help when they need it.

Workers with mental health issues and high levels of psychological stress are more prone to make errors and have accidents at work.

Across the Nordics, mental health issues among young people mainly take the form of stress, depression and anxiety. Workers with mental health issues and high levels of stress are more prone to accidents and errors at work, making mental health also an important topic for occupational safety.

Factors affecting mental health at work

Mental health is strongly linked to changes in working life and culture. The increasing demands and expectations of working life can cause stress, anxiety and other mental health issues for new generations entering the workforce. It is important to recognise that many young adults are already experiencing depression and anxiety during their studies before entering the workforce.

If Insurance hosted a workshop for 28 Finnish university students regarding this topic during spring 2023. Among the findings, students highlighted that mental health issues are clearly associated with the amount of workload, but also with conflicting or overwhelming demands. The most common work-related factors identified as threats to mental health are:

  • lack of support from managers and colleagues
  • poor or non-existent onboarding
  • constant pressure to perform
  • imbalance in performance and recognition
  • mismatch between demands and skills
  • problems with free-time recovery and work-life balance.
  • other health-related issues

 It is important to remember that work alone is not the only threat to mental health, as there are many other factors in one’s personal life that need to be considered. At its best, work helps to protect mental health by providing a livelihood, a sense of meaning and purpose, routines and relationships. Stress, family matters or health problems in one’s personal life can affect work and stress resilience. From the employer’s point of view, there is an impact on the employee’s working ability regardless of the personal or work-related origin of the issues.

The role of the workplace in supporting mental health

The employer plays a significant role in supporting employees’ mental health. There is effective professional help for mental health issues, for example through psychotherapy, but supporting workers’ occupational health and safety cannot be fully outsourced.

Reacting to issues helps a little, preventing them helps a lot.

It is important that employers have clear policies and supporting procedures to help employees cope with the challenges that work presents.

Supporting mental health in the workplace can be achieved by focusing on five basic elements:

  • Promoting of mental health awareness and psychological safety
  • Identifying adverse stress factors for mental health
  • Early intervention
  • Planning and monitoring work adjustments
  • Supporting measures and a pathway to professional help

Young employees should have a positive first impression when beginning their journey in the workforce, making a good onboarding process essential to support their mental well-being, motivation, and enable high retention rates. By offering mentoring, gradually increasing responsibilities, and enhancing competence, young employees can successfully adapt and engage in working life.

An atmosphere that encourages openness and dialogue is crucial for preventing and managing mental health. The foundation is established through fostering an open and psychologically safe culture, enabling individuals to confidently raise challenging issues without fear of negative reactions from colleagues or managers. Emphasising the prevalence of mental health issues in discussions is important for diminishing the associated stigma.

A proactive and emotionally intelligent leadership approach is essential to mitigate mental health issues as managers can identify psychosocial stress factors and early warning signs of weakened mental health in advance. An early intervention approach is all about stepping in and assessing the employee’s current working ability in cases where early signs of potential problems are identified. The assessment may lead to work adjustments, low-threshold counselling, stress management tools or a pathway to professional help.

Managers can promote a healthy work environment by providing training and career development opportunities, and by adjusting the workload to accommodate an employee’s ability to work, whether temporarily or for extended periods. Implementing flexible working arrangements can effectively mitigate the progression of mental health issues. Work adjustments and flexibility can include, for example:

  • changes in the way tasks are organised and the duration of work
  • flexibility in working hours
  • remote working
  • reorganisation or customisation of tasks with another employee

 The possibility to adjust work effectively relieves stress, while the flexible working arrangements make it easier to have an active lifestyle, maintain social relations and get enough rest. These are the key factors of work-life balance.

How does If support its clients and their employees?

The most important thing when facing mental health issues is to get help quickly. If wants to support its customers by providing an insurance solution that allows their employees to get quick access to high-quality mental health services.

This solution provides employees with an easy pathway low-threshold discussion assistance and psychotherapy through If’s healthcare partners, challenging the traditional notion that insurance companies solely cover healthcare expenses. Swift access to mental health services decreases the chances of challenges progressing to more severe disorders leading to long-term work absences.

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In terms of supporting measures, offering services that promote mental health, employers not only reduce the costs related to long absences, but also contribute to a positive work atmosphere. In fact, mental health education and supporting services have been shown to be effective in reducing stress and depression among employees. For example, a significant reduction in sickness absences can been seen after offering access to short-term psychotherapy for the employees.

Support and open interaction between employees contribute not only to mental health but also to job satisfaction. The significance of peer support in fostering mental health cannot be overstated, as daily interactions, sharing personal feelings, and receiving peer support can effectively mitigate the escalation of issues into long-term disorders.

Disregarding the alarming trend of mental health challenges is a dangerous gamble that not only adds new risks to business operations but also jeopardises the well-being of individuals and society. Now is the time to meet these challenges.

Facts & highlights

  • Only 35% of employees are aware of available mental health services provided by the employer.
  • Only a third of line managers feel they are equipped with the right training to address their subordinates’ mental health issues.
  • Three out of four employees believe that the workplace should provide support for people with mental health issues.
  • A study conducted by Terveystalo (2022) found a 40% reduction in mental health-related sickness absence after workers were offered the opportunity for short-term psychotherapy as part of their occupational health.
  • Around 80% of work disabilities among people under 35 years old are due to mental health disorders.

Sources and more information

  1. The Guardian. (2018). The Nordic countries' 'happy' reputation masks sadness of young, says the report. 
  2. Mieli ry. (2021). Tilastotietoa mielenterveydestä.
  3. (2020). Sairastavuus
  4. (2019). Tilastotietoa työkyvyttömyyseläkkeistä
  5. Centre for Mental Health. (2017). Mental health at work: The business costs ten years on. 
  6. Finnish Centre for Pensions. (2022). Exceptionally few new retirees on a disability pension
  7. Talouselämä. (2023). Tuore kysely: Vain 38 prosenttia nuorista kokee, että kesätöistä on ollut hyötyä työuran kannalta. 
  8. Hilton, M.F., Whiteford, H.A. Associations between psychological distress, workplace accidents, workplace failures and workplace successes.  (2010). Int Arch Occup Environ Health 83, 923–933, 
  9. Työturvallisuuskeskus. (2021). Työ ja mielenterveys
  10. Työterveyslaitos. (2018). Työn muokkauksen keinot, kun mielenterveyden häiriö vaikuttaa työkykyyn
  11. Ojanperä. (2023). Kohti hyvinvoivaa työyhteisöä. TTK. 
  12. Kaleva, T. (2020). Emotionally intelligent operational level human resource management in engaging Generation Z employees. Bachelor’s thesis. University of Oulu.
  13. (2022). Mielenterveyteen liittyvät sairauspoissaolot vähenivät merkittävästi työterveyden lyhytpsykoterapian ansiosta. 
  14. (2023). Nuoret työntekijät. Miten pidämme huolta nuorten työntekijöiden työkyvystä? 
  15. (2014). State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia
  16. (2019). Line managers are not being given enough support to protect workers’ mental health and wellbeing, the survey shows. [Referenced on 28.4.2023]

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By Tuomas Kaleva, Vilma Torkko and Katrine Ravn