Increase in stress and physical demands in the health sector

An annual survey of public sector workers in Finland has shown small but significant changes in well-being in the workplace over recent years. In particular, work-life balance has improved. Nevertheless, workers say staff shortages and other workplace problems that cause psychological and physical stress are still threats to well-being. The survey also shows that management are largely sympathetic towards workers wanting to extend their careers beyond retirement age.

Introduction

Pensions specialist Keva has published Municipal Workers’ Well-being 2011 (in Finnish, 405Kb PDF), the most recent in a series of similar surveys conducted annually since 2008. Keva handles pension applications, pension decisions, rehabilitation, customer service and the payment of pensions for local government workers in Finland. It also looks after the pension schemes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and runs Kela, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

Keva looks after the interests of around 1.3 million people with different types of insurance and pension plans. The company is also responsible for administering the earnings-related pension cover of Finland’s public sector employees. Most public sector workers are involved in health care, social work activities and education.

The Keva survey involved a random sample of municipal workers aged between 18 and 68. The data was collected through telephone interviews. The results are broken down into five separate sectors, covering education, social, healthcare, technical and ‘general’.

Small changes to well-being at work

In the public sector, people’s perception of their well-being in the workplace has remained much the same over the past few years. However, there have been both positive and negative changes, and there have also been some noticeable differences between sectors.

The survey showed negative changes to people’s perceived ability to do their job, to the atmosphere in the workplace, and to workers’ satisfaction with management

The number of those surveyed who said they felt mentally and physically able to do the job decreased, but the levels still remained high. In 2011, overall 75% of municipal workers considered their ‘physical work ability’ was good or excellent – this figure was 9% lower than in 2008. In the education sector, 84% considered their physical ability was either good or excellent, and in the technical sector it was 70%. In 2011, a total of 82% considered their mental work ability was good or excellent, 7% lower than in 2008.

Two-thirds of those surveyed (66%) considered the atmosphere at work was good or excellent in 2011. This was 10% lower than in 2008. Workers’ satisfaction with management had also decreased, especially in the education sector.

As a whole the physical load at work, the flow of information, the ability to have an influence in the workplace, and competence in relation to work demands were almost unchanged in the municipal sector over the years.

In the health sector, employees felt the physical strain of their work had increased, and in 2011, 58% considered their work to be physically demanding.

The most positive results for employees having the ability to influence events at work were in education sector, and the worst were in the health sector. Most (85%) considered that their competence in relation to the demands of their job was good.

Stress at work on the decrease

The survey found psychological stress at work had decreased, work-life balance had improved and attitudes toward extending careers were also better.

Altogether, 55% of public sector employees considered their work psychologically stressful in 2011, 11% less than in 2008. Almost three quarters of those in the health care sector (72%) considered their work psychologically stressful in 2011, and this proportion had increased from the previous year. Three in five (60%) of public sector workers considered that employers’ attitudes toward extending their careers beyond the usual retirement age were favourable. Respondents also believed that employers’ attitudes towards older workers continuing to work, despite reduced work ability, had improved.

The challenges to improving workers’ well-being at work varied according to sector. In the social, health and technical sectors, for example, the physically demanding nature of the work was one of the major factors affecting an employer’s occupational well-being. Many factors combined in the health sector to affect well-being. The factors identified included psychologically and physically stressful work, time constraints and a lack of personnel. Employees also felt that managers did not make sufficient investment in the well-being of workers.

Reference

Kaartinen, R., Forma P. and Pekka T. (2011), Kuntatyöntekijöiden työhyvinvointi 2011 [Municipal workers’ well-being 2011] (in Finnish, 405Kb PDF), Kevan tutkimuksia 2/2011, Vantaa. Available at http://www.keva.fi/fi/julkaisut/Sivut/tutkimusjulkaisut.aspx

Merja Perkiö-Mäkelä, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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