Differentiating emotions: the role of an employee’s generation and gender in their emotional experiences of working life and work ability and their management

The emotional strain experienced by young workers and the changing ways in which they manage their emotions may be behind the increased challenges to work ability related to mental health. This multi-method study provides information on the emotional strain and the role of emotions as part of work ability among employees representing different backgrounds. It also supports the development of new science-based approaches to supporting the ability to work.

The changing role of emotions as part of work, workership and the management of work ability is at the core of this research project. The key concepts of the project are emotional strain and models of emotion management.

The term emotional strain describes the recurrent emotional burden experienced by the employees. Emotional strain can result from external circumstances as well as from the challenges posed by the subjective socio-emotional framework. It can be related to issues such as the work itself, unfulfilled expectations and ideals, demands on self-management, or conflicts between different areas of life.

Emotion management models refer to different ways of identifying, structuring and resolving emotions. They reflect the culturally specific values, norms and expectations associated with emotions and their adequate management. These models reflect the role and status given to emotions as part of the ability to work.

Perceived emotional strain and emotion management models may vary within the working age population. For example, generational and gendered emotional management models may be reflected in how people cope with the emotional strain they experience. Recent observations of anxiety and psychological distress, particularly among young adults, and the increased use of psychotherapy can be viewed as signs of the changing role of emotions in culture. 




  • To analyse the role of young employee’s emotional strain and emotion management methods in shaping their ability to work and as part of the formation of their mental health.
  • To locate different generational and gendered perspectives and ways of taking care of oneself and the role of emotional challenges as part of the ability to work.
  • To identify the groups of working-age people who experience emotional strain and the sense of loss of control at work.
  • To review the status of emotional strain experienced at work as a factor in incapacity for work among employees representing different generations and genders.
  • To provide specialists in work ability and well-being, policy guidance and work organisations with new approaches that take into account the role of emotions as part of both work and generational and gendered behavioural models.

Materials and techniques

The study includes a broad quantitative and qualitative section.

The qualitative analysis utilises extensive interview materials gathered from the municipal sector in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

The quantitative analyses use the Healthy Finland Survey’s materials and the register data representing the working-age population of Finland. 

Results and effectiveness

The project provides fresh approaches to structuring the theme of work ability. It links employees' ability to work and mental well-being to culture, labour market status and influencing opportunities. Through the results of the project, the role of emotions and their identification and management becomes part of the social and economic opportunities within which employees and the professionals who solve challenges related to work ability operate.

The project will provide research data on population groups differentiated by emotion-based work ability. The research data will enable the development of new approaches to the challenges of work ability and mental wellbeing. By examining the change of boundaries in experiencing and structuring emotions and the resulting tensions at work, the results of the project tie the analysis of mental health and work as part of the societal change and its differentiation.

The main results of the project will be published in scientific articles and presentations. An online guide for workplaces and experts will be created based on the project, bringing together different perspectives on problems of work ability related to mental health and on managing the ability to work. The results of the project will be described in blogs, addresses by specialists and media interviews. A final report will summarise the main findings of the project.

Kysy hankkeesta

Henkilökuva Ari Väänänen

Ari Väänänen

Research Professor, Principal Investigator

Ari.Vaananen [at]
+358 30 474 2435
Kristiina Lehmuskoski

Kristiina Lehmuskoski

Researcher, Project Manager

kristiina.lehmuskoski [at]
+358 30 474 3170


  • Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
  • KEVA
  • HENRY – Finnish Association for Human Resource Management

The project will collaborate with three organisations:

  • Mannerheim League for Child Welfare
  • OMD Finland Oy
  • Kaiku Helsinki Oy


The Finnish Work Environment Fund and  the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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