FINLAND: EWCO comparative analytical report on Work-related Stress

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 15 Grudzień 2010


Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Work-related stress has been an important aspect when well-being at work has been studied or different measures have been developed to improve working conditions. Time pressure, burnout and different stress outcomes manifest the phenomenon of work-related stress in Finland. It has also been the area where numerous development programs and interventions have tried to get results. During the last few years, measures have emphasized well-being at work promoting positive aspects in spite of trying to prevent work-related stress.

Q1 Monitoring work-related stress at the national level

1. Are there any instruments in place to monitor work-related stress at the national level, for example, national surveys, sectoral studies, epidemiological studies, action research, or other research programmes? Please describe the main sources of information available on work-related stress in your country (coverage, methodology, definitions used, etc.).

The data in questions 2 and question 3(1) derive from the Quality of Work Life Survey (FQWLS), an extensive personal interview survey conducted since 1977 to monitor employees’ working conditions and changes in them.

The data are collected with personal face-to-face interviews using a standardised questionnaire. The sample is obtained from the Labour Force Survey (FLFS). Between 3,000 and 6,500 persons have been interviewed in each survey round and the non-response rate has varied between nine and 32%.

The experience of work-related stress is not directly studied in FQWLS, instead the time pressure and it’s symptoms are surveyd.

The data in question 1(2) derives from 2006 Work and Health surveys carried out by Finnish Institute of Occupational Health . The aim is to collect comprehensive monitoring data among other things working-age population in work, working conditions, health, welfare and work ability of health-related lifestyle.

Cross-sectional surveys have been carried out every three year since 1997. The data has been collected with telephone interviews from about 3,000 finnish speaking persons and the response rate was 63% in 2006. In this study, stress has been specifically described in the questionnaire.

2. Provide, if available, data on the overall level of work-related stress based on the identified sources. If possible, identify the main trends in this matter presenting data (e.g. for the last five years).

According to the study of Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in 2003 12% of wage and salary earners experienced very much or quite a lot stress and in 2006 the proportion was 10%.

Stress was inquired with the following question: "Stress means a situation where a person feels him/herself tense, restless, nervous or anxious, or finds it hard to sleep on when things are constantly worrying his/her mind. Do you feel nowadays such a stress? "

Q2 Risk factors for work-related stress

Based on the main or most used monitoring instruments available (identified in Q1), please provide information on the following risk factors for stress.

Note: If available, please provide information on the main changes or trends in text. Any tables with figures illustrating those trends should be included in annex (if possible, breakdown the data by gender and/or other relevant variables).

Quantitative demands: workload, working hours, quantity and intensity of work.

Time pressure is the adverse effect that has increased most clearly at the workplace. While 18 per cent of wage and salary earners considered time pressure to cause a lot of adverse effects and strain in the 1977 survey, the proportion had already risen to 31 per cent in 2008 (Figure 1).

Time pressure is particularly felt adverse in the municipal sector, where from the 1997 survey employees have experienced the greatest adverse effects of time pressure.In 2008 38% employees working for local government sector considered time pressure to cause very much or quite a lot of adverse effects and strain. The proportion for employees working for private sector was 30% and central government sector 26% (Figure 2).

Qualitative demands: these refer to emotional and cognitive demands at work and may include work-life balance issues, complexity of work, dealing with angry clients and suffering patients, feeling afraid, having to hide emotions, etc.

The effect of time pressure has been studied in FQWLS by using a sum variable consisting of such questions from the questionnaire, which in qualitative study proved to be the most decisive factors describing time pressure. The sum variable consists of following questions: 1) Adverse effects of time pressure 2) works under a great pressure 3) time pressure and tight time schedules make your job less enjoyable 4) risk of grave work exhaustion 5) your pace of work has increased 6) you cannot take breaks or rest periods sufficiently 7) you often have to stretch your working day to get all the work done 8) you often have to interrupt your work because of work related inquiries, calls etc..

The “composite” sum variable of time pressure has been defined by the presence of at least five of the eight above mentioned factors when they have been changed to dichotomies. The sum variable shows clearly that the different forms of time pressure pile up to female employees. When 39% of women felt much time pressure in 2008, the percentage for men was only 25%. The difference of experiencing time pressure by genders has stayed the same, because even five years earlier, women (39%) experienced more time pressure than men (26%).

Respondents of FQWLS were asked whether they considered various threats and dangers to constitute distinct hazards, occasional hazards, or no hazard at all in their work. There was a clear growth between 1984 and 1990 for all listed hazards. After this, many of the hazards seemed to decrease and even out. The fear of contracting diseases and being subjected to violence, however, has continued to increase through the 1990s and even beyond. The most commonly experienced hazards in 2008 were strain injury (61% employees experienced as hazard), accident risk (55%) and grave work exhaustion (51%) (Figure 3)

.Relations at work which may include social support from colleagues or supervisor, management style and relationships with colleagues/managers/the organisation; violence and harassment at work.

There has been a negative change in encouragement from the work community. This is particularly evident when looking at "always" response rates. In 2008 compared to year 2003 fewer percentage of wage and salary earners felt that they participated in the planning of work (28% vs. 30%), felt a valuable member of the community (27% vs. 29%), were able to apply own ideas in work (23% vs. 25%) or received support and encouragement from co-workers (19% vs. 19%). The only proportion which remained the same in both years was the proportion of employees who received support and encouragement from co-workers (28% vs. 28%) (Figure 4)

Physical violence or threat of it has increased clearly among female wage and salary earners during the last few decades (Figure 5). Among women employees, experiences of violence are concentrated mostly in health care sector occupations, where over one-half of workers experienced violence or the threat of it their work in 2008.

Autonomy, decision latitude and room for manoeuvre: control over work, including control over pace of work and over job content and decision-making power; predictability of work, use and possibility to develop skills.

The opportunity to influence work has been rising in all other areas except influencing the order of tasks and pace of work. The ability to influence the pace of work has started to decrease since 1990. However, this decrease seems to have stopped now. Employees felt in 2008 that they could most influence to order of tasks (70 % can influence a lot or quite a lot), working methods (65%) and pace of work (57%) (Figure 6).

Individual and collective mechanisms for employees’ involvement, particularly in relation to organisational change and change management, including communication of change.

Figure 7 shows what types of major changes have taken place or are taking place at the workplace. The numbers clearly show that changes are constantly taking place at the workplace. Roughly one half of wage and salary earners report changes in superiors and management (56%) and information systems (44%). More than a third (36%) of wage and salary earners report that changes have taken place or will affect customer groups or products. There are no real differences between the genders regarding changes at the workplace; both genders share the same experiences.

35% of wage and salary earners received information at the planning stage about changes relating to work in 2008. A clear change has taken place here compared with the 1997 situation, when the figure was 41% (Figure 8.).

The perception of the role that the employee holds in the organisation and whether the employee is clear about what is expected of them in terms of their job; clarity of the management changes, i.e., how organisations manage and communicate change; motivation; over commitment and reward.

When evaluating changes in work organisation, the increase in assessment of work by its productivity and profitability continues to be a very central development affecting the workplaces of 64 per cent of wage and salary earners. In the latest survey, increased monitoring of productivity has concerned the central government sector in particular, as 81 per cent of central government wage and salary earners reported an increase. The proportion at the local government and private sectors were both 62 per cent. In all sectors, there have been clear increases from the last survey, but in the central government sector the increase was the largest: from 72 to 81 per cent (Figure 9).

Conflicts of value and organisational justice.

Unfortunately the FQWLS does not contain any information about this topic.

Precariousness of work (i.e. nature of the employment contract).

The proportion of fixed-term wage and salary earners increased from the 1980s and reached its peak in 1997 according to the FQWLS. Since then, the proportion has gone down somewhat. In the mid-2000s, the situation appeared to have been stabilised. In the spring of 2008 the share of fixed-term workers has decreased a bit: it was 16 per cent for women and 8 per cent for men, and 12 per cent altogether (Figure 10).

If there are no surveys or large scale research programmes available, please provide information on how stress is measured/assessed in other sources: qualitative research data on stress risk assessment at company level or sectoral level, studies with a focus on specific occupations, etc.

Q3 Work-related stress outcomes

Please provide information (including references to the sources or studies) on stress-related outcomes:

Individual outcomes (e.g. mental health illnesses, including depression and anxiety, and physical illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), disabilities, fatigue and sleeping problems);

According to FQWLS the most common psychological symptoms in 2008 were sleeping difficulties and fatigue, apathy or lack of energy, which suffered one in three wage and salary earners (Figure 11). The increase in sleeping difficulties has been especially notable for women during the past 30 years. In 1977 20% of women were affected by sleeping difficulties and in 2008 already 37%. Among men these figures were 17% vs. 28%.

The most common somatic symptom in 2008 was headache, women (21%) suffered from it more than men (12%). Stomach pains, irregular heartbeats and dizziness were clearly less experienced than headache (Figure 12).

Two in five (41%) of wage and salary earners reported recurrently suffering from ache and pain in neck and shoulder area (Figure 13). The trend for problems in the neck and shoulder region has been steadily increasing since the 1970s partly because of the ageing of wage and salary earners. Women (48%) experienced more these problems than men (34%) in 2008. Other musculoskeletal problems were less common although women still suffer from these problems significantly more often than men.

The social construction of stress by group of workers: can you provide references and main findings of research discussing this issue; factors acknowledged as stressful by some group of workers; groups which refer to stress or not to describe unsatisfactory situations

Finnish Institution of Occupational Health carried out in 2008-2009 a study concerning Well-being at work of women entrepreneurs. According to this study women entrepreneurs experienced stress more often than other employed women. Stress was caused by for example financial responsibility, pressure of time and work undone, and uncertainty about the availability of sufficient work in the future. Most stress was experienced in the accommodation and catering sector and among entrepreneurs who are also employers. (Palmgren et al. 2010)

Organisational outcomes (effects that individual stress outcomes have on organisations, e.g. absence from work, job satisfaction, morale, level of commitment, productivity, and the impact of these outcomes on organisations’ costs, performance, or innovation capacity);

Please see answers to question 4(4).

Labour Market or Societal level outcomes (the ‘costs’ to society of stress). This could include issues such as higher levels of unemployment and of recipients of incapacity benefits, costs to health and welfare systems, loss of productivity.

Data from the costs of stress has not been directly collected in Finland, instead estimates of the costs of stress can be made through the costs of pensions etc.

According to studies the well-being of the personnel and the financial success of the enterprise have a clear link (Otala, L.-M. et al. 2005). In Finland about 1.9 million euros is used in workplaces to well-being . However, premature pensions, sickness absence and accidents causes more than 10 times the cost (25 billion), compared with the amount spent in the well-being.

Enterprises spend in investments of well-being approximately 789 euros per capita in 2009 (Aura, O. et al. 2009).

The Confederation of Finnish Industries (EK) has estimated that the annual work input lost by its members due to sickness absences amounts to 50,000 working years. In significant proportion of enterprises absences from work due to illness excess 5 per cent of the theoretical regular working hour. The average total cost of one day of absence is estimated to be around EUR 300 at the 2009 level of prices and costs .

Q4 Interventions on work-related stress management

What relevant information is available about interventions on work-related stress management and their effectiveness?

Are any interventions in place to prevent or manage work-related stress? If so, what kind of interventions are they? Please describe them making reference to coverage, effectiveness, since when they are in place, etc.

In interventions, balancing the demands and resources at work has most likely proved to be beneficial for a successful recovery from work-related stress and burnout. Furthermore, in order to prevent burnout, regular workplace surveys and a positive development of working conditions are useful. These approaches require active cooperation between occupational health services and company management. Please look at an earlier information update about occupational burnout.

Which organisations are promoting these interventions? E.g. at national level (health and safety authority, labour inspectorate, social partners, government), at sectoral or at company level?

EU labour market organisations UNICE / UEAPME, CEEP and the ETUC signed the Framework Agreement on work-related stress in 8/10/2004. In Finland, it has been implemented through a recommendation of central labour market organisations’ agreement on stress at work. The purpose is to remind the harmful effects of work-related stress and highlight the importance of prevention. Furthermore, the aim is to draw attention to the characteristics of work-related stress and present measures through which harmful work-related stress can be prevented and controlled

The Centre For Occupational Safety has published a brochure on Työstressi hallintaan (Work-related stress management), which deals with work-related stress management.

Are the interventions devised to be implemented at the primary (action on causes) / secondary (action on individuals) or tertiary (action on the consequences of stress) stage?

All of these.

Are any common instruments to measure stress at organisational level being used, developed, tested or assessed? Please describe them, indicating since when they are in place.

In the web pages of The Centre For Occupational Safety there is a web questionnaire dealing with work-related stress.

This query can be used as a self-assessment method for work-related stress. The method is intended primarily for personal use, when seeking to determine the load of one’s own work and working community.

Psyfyrix-method can be used to assess and prevent the psychophysical health risks caused by work and working conditions. The starting point is the idea that exposure to a adverse factor is always a health risk, which individual size and in particular the importance of psychological stress in the workplace is often difficult or almost impossible to assess. Therefore, the employee's personal evaluation of each adversive factor and its meaning is recommended way to go in motion.The two above-mentioned method has been developed by Kyösti Waris.

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has collected information on different methods concerning mental health at work. Methods deal with stress at work (specifically the agricultural work), mood, burnout, mental workload, management of harassment and inappropriate treatment and the psychosocial work environment and assessment of the state and crises the workplace (several methods). Some of these about 15 methods are free of charge and available from the web-page.

Please identify and describe up to three examples of good practice and their effectiveness in terms of stress management, with a special focus on the lessons learned. These can be at national, sectoral or organisational level.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has launched a project in 2007 designed to reduce the incidence of depression among the population leading to work incapacity. Depression is a major cause of people taking early retirement, prolonged sick leave and leave due to work incapacity.

The initiative, called the MASTO Project, which is spearheaded by a broad-based coordinating group, aims to improve mental health by targeting depression prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. It also aims to develop a range of best practices concerning people on sick leave due to depression. The project is currently in action.

The Well-Being at Work Programme 2000–2003 aimed to promoting working capacity and helping to maintain well-being in the workplace. The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health were responsible for project implementation, together with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the labour market organizations and other stakeholders. The total budget for the Programme came to about EUR 6,980,000.

The motivation for the Programme lies in alterations in working life in Finland since the 1990s, mainly caused by changes in the external working environment. Employees are expected to learn new skills, and willingness and ability to deal with this constant learning have become essential. Advances in information technology, in particular, have created demands for new skills. In addition, the Programme was also created to address the tendency of Finns to leave the labour market at a relatively early age, the challenges of demographic change, and the high stress levels indicated by workplace climate studies.

The evaluation report shows that the key value added by the Well-Being at Work Programme was that it increased awareness of well-being at work generally through its extensive information provision and dissemination of good practices. These good practices consisted of both research findings and the results of development projects. The Programme expanded the concept of well-being at work and placed an emphasis on the ‘team spirit’ of work communities and on people’s ability to cope in psychological terms. Well-being at work is the result of the combined effect of several factors. The Programme emphasized supervisory and management practices and interaction, people’s control over and mastery of their own work, the transfer of tacit knowledge, the organization of work, and working time arrangements, which can also help people coordinate family life and work.

Are there any public discussions and/or interventions that address specifically the identification, prevention and management of stress due to organisational change and restructuring? If yes, please summarise them.

Social partners have been organizing information meetings regarding the implementation of agreement on work related stress across Finland.

Q5 Commentary

This report on work-related stress in Finland is mostly descriptive in that sense that it only describes phenomena which can be included in the concept. The report also describes the consequences of work-related stress and some measures which have been done at the societal and plant level. Actually, in spite of the EU recommendations, work-related stress is not a much discussed matter anymore in the Finnish working live. “Well-being at work” is a much more commonly used concept. Measures have been changed the other way round, not to prevent stress but to promote positive aspects. That is why the research on stress is not so common anymore.

Concerning the research on stress, one should notice that there have been at least two different traditions to follow. The American tradition has seen stress primarily as an individual problem. Its main emphasis has been on finding and developing different coping strategies for employees. On the other hand, there is the Scandinavian tradition which focuses on the connections between the organisation of work and work-related stress. When measures in the Finnish working live have mostly followed the Scandinavian tradition, the emphasis has been on finding the causes for stress, burnout and ill-health. Only by analysing the reasons it has been possible to find some solutions for promoting well-being at work.

Tarja Seppänen, Statistics Finland



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