Finnish Institute of Occupational Health media release 24 November 2023
Solutions to the employment problems of unemployed persons with partial work ability were sought in the Work Ability Programme in 2019–2023. In addition, work ability support services were developed and new research data on the measures has now been published.
Among the people who participated in the services of the Work Ability Programme, four groups of persons with partial work ability were identified: early retirees, those who have become unemployed after graduation, those who have become unemployed after being employed and those on long-term unemployment. The career paths, health status, work ability and functional capacity of the groups differed from each other. Identifying the special characteristics and needs of these groups can help with planning work ability support measures more effectively.
“The results now published illustrate the diversity of people with partial work ability. The grouping offers a new perspective on the targeting and development of services so that the specific needs of clients can be genuinely taken into account,” says researcher Joonas Poutanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
The research results provide new information on demographic groups in which participation in work life is fundamentally low, such as people with partial work ability and people with disabilities. These groups have broad potential to raise the employment rate.
Identification can help target services
A number of notable differences between the groups were observed. For example, challenges related to mental health were particularly prevalent in the graduation to unemployment group.
Early retirees had the lowest number of musculoskeletal and mental health disorders. They also felt that their work ability and functional capacity were the best in comparison with other groups.
“The group includes people with developmental disabilities, for example. Their situation may be more stable compared to those whose health has changed suddenly,” Poutanen says.
This group is particularly well suited for employment support services piloted in the Work Ability Programme that aim for a rapid transition to the labour market. Health, work ability and functional capacity challenges were most common among the long-term unemployed and the employment to unemployment groups. With regard to these groups, a rapid transition to the labour market may not be possible as the factors that prevent and promote employment must be identified first.
“In the rehabilitation process of an unemployed person, it is important to include work life goals to which the support measures can be linked. In this way, the connection to work life is maintained,” he continues.
The exceptional research setting provided information about, for example, in which areas of life the participants hoped changes would occur.
“It is not often possible in studies to utilize both long-term register data and data provided by participants. We were able to form an accurate description of the situation of the target group and their challenges,” says Matti Joensuu, Chief Researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
Utilization of information provided by clients in services is important
Another study of the Work Ability Programme investigated how well the self-assessment of individuals' own situation corresponds to the register data. There was a clear connection between the two.
By examining the Abilitator self-assessment tool, it was found that, for example, poor mental well-being and physical functioning assessment results were associated with mental health and musculoskeletal diagnoses. The conclusion is that utilizing the self-assessment methods based on researched data in work ability support services is a useful way to collect helpful information.
“In services and planning measures, it is important to utilize the information provided by the clients. The Abilitator data was found to correspond well with the register data, which confirms the reliability of the method with regard to this target group,” says Joensuu.
The results of the study complement previous Abilitator studies that have investigated the validity and reliability of the indicator as a self-assessment tool for work ability and functional capacity.
- The data of the studies consisted of the national register data of clients who participated in the work ability support and employment support services of the Work Ability Programme and the responses to the Abilitator self-assessment survey on work ability and functional capacity (N = 643).
- The registers of Statistics Finland, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Finnish Centre for Pensions and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare were utilized.
- The career paths of the participants between 2005 and 2021 before participation in the Work Ability Programme's services were studied.
- Correlation, sequence and cluster analyses were used in the analyses of the studies.
- The study was funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
- Research articles:
- Main activity trajectory clusters of unemployed people with partial work ability and cluster features - Joonas Poutanen, Kia Gluschkoff, Johanna Kausto, Matti Joensuu, 2023 (sagepub.com)
- Associations between the Abilitator, a self-reported measurement tool of work ability and functioning, and national register-based indicators of health and employment | BMJ Open
- Joonas Poutanen, Researcher, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, joonas.poutanen [at] ttl.fi, +358 (0)30 474 3203
- Matti Joensuu, Chief Researcher, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Matti.Joensuu [at] ttl.fi, +358 (0)30 474 2636