6. How to support employees with symptoms or illness?

When an employee’s health affects their work, the supervisor can support the continuation of work with work organization and a solution-oriented and understanding attitude.

When examining the situation of an individual employee, it is important to identify the situation where work has contributed to the onset of the illness, for example, through excessive stress and burnout. In addition to solving the individual's situation, wider actions are needed at the workplace.

Workplace surveys on psychosocial stress factors carried out by the occupational health care service provider, personnel surveys and risk assessments provide additional information.

Supporting employees with symptoms or illness

View of an expert by experience: In work life with depression

I've had depression since I was in high school. By the age of 44, I have had experienced three periods of severe depression, during which I have been out of work life. However, a person is not the same as their diagnosis. I have earned two university degrees and have been in work life for twenty years. I have worked as a social worker, spokesperson and project planner and I have received a lot of positive feedback on my work.

Depression can remain hidden in the workplace. I believe that my depression has often not been noticed at all because I have done my job well. I have been an enthusiastic, committed and productive employee. I have been a colleague and a subordinate who always has a lot of ideas and some new project going on. I have also experienced joy and a deep sense of meaningfulness at work, which have given me a lot of energy in everyday life. However, depression has been a real experience at the same time.

Long-term depression is a persistent mild feeling of being dispirited. For me, it has been associated with chronic fatigue and a tendency to worry. The onset of severe depression has meant that the facade of coping and work ability have crumbled. Severe depression has been a free fall in the darkness. It has been a deep feeling of hopelessness and emptiness filled with the pain of the mind.

I believe that work can sometimes be one of the factors that trigger and prolong depression. For example, a poor atmosphere at work is a really consuming experience if it continues for a long time. The worst strain in my career has been inappropriate behaviour, which has eroded confidence in myself and others for a long time. The world of temporary employment relationships also brings its own challenges to coping. Recurring uncertainty about the continuation of work has occasionally led me to overdo it, as I have tried to show my added value to the employer over and over again.

Depression has taught me a lot both about myself and about work life. I have had to face the demands I set for myself and have learned internal flexibility. I have come to appreciate my own sensitivity, although for some, it is a sign of weakness. I have decided to speak openly about my experiences of depression because I want to eliminate the shameful stigma of mental health problems in work life.

Recurrent depression is not an obstacle to participation in work life. It is essential that the resource and stress factors of the work are balanced. Healthy work structures and practices are important for everyone and especially so for employees struggling with depression. In my experience, a low hierarchy, an open culture of discussion and opportunities to influence one's work are also the best ways to support mental health.

Minna Salonen Social Psychologist (Master of Social Sciences), expert by experience