Recovery and work ability in the wellbeing services counties require support measures

Most employees in the social welfare and health care and rescue services sector have recovered poorly from their work during the first year of operations of the wellbeing services counties. Uncertainty factors related to work continued to increase in the year 2023 and reduced work ability has become increasingly prevalent, especially among people under the age of 30 who work in the social welfare and health care sector.
Sote-työntekijä seisoo tauolla.

Finnish Institute of Occupational Health media release 18 January 2024

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s overview of the wellbeing services counties first year gathers together key results of the Mitä kuuluu? and well-being at work surveys for 11 wellbeing services counties for the year 2023. Rapid organization in early 2023 increased pressure at work and decreased well-being especially in fragmented regions, where a new wellbeing services county was formed from several organizations.

The overview also presents long-term trends, starting from the year 2000 regarding social welfare and health care sector work, work communities and leadership. Nearly 68,400 employees responded to the 2023 research surveys (response rate 55). 

Rapid change in operating environment increased stress

The transition to the wellbeing services counties was carried out very rapidly and faced great challenges, which increased stress.

“The increase in stress applies to work and tasks that are already very stressful due to shift work, a lot of work and time pressure. All of this eats away at well-being,” says Research Professor Jaana Laitinen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Every other employee has not been able to influence changes in their work. Only 16 per cent feel that the changes are positive. Most employees recover poorly and feel that their work ability has decreased. 

Engaging employees in planning changes

Experiences of decreased work ability are alarmingly common in sectors with a growing labour shortage. According to the Research Director, community-level measures for maintaining work ability and promoting recovery from work already during the work shift are also needed.

“Managing the wellbeing services counties and all related decisions must take into account how work can be changed and developed to flow smoothly in ways that also promote work ability and recovery from work. Employees must be engaged already when planning changes. Development within work units should be sprinkled into work shift planning and recurring meeting practices,” says Laitinen.

Social welfare and healthcare and the rescue services sector could learn from each other. It would seem that well-functioning co-operation in the work communities is a specific strength of the social welfare and healthcare sector. On the other hand, a higher percentage of employees in the rescue services sector recover well from their work.

“In order to increase the attractiveness and retention of these sectors, it would be good to recognise the differences and similarities in the situational picture of well-being at work. We should aim to use the best solutions,” says Laitinen. 

Job resources support social welfare and healthcare work

Repeated measurements that the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has carried out since 2000 also demonstrate positive developments. Stress has eased a little since the peak years caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Job resources, such as work being rewarding and meaningful as well as investing in work, have stayed the same.

“Co-operation and work communities are a key resource in social welfare and healthcare work and the previously attained high level was maintained at the wellbeing services counties in 2023. According to employees’ estimates, the fairness of immediate leadership has improved somewhat and the actions of immediate supervisors are rated very positively,” says Research Professor Mika Kivimäki

There was no significant decrease in attraction and retention, but also no signs of improvement. 

“The desire to recommend the employer to friends has continued to decrease. More than half of employees considered changing employers, but this has been the case for several years,” Kivimäki reminds. 

Big drop in youth assessment of their own work ability

Repeated measurements show a bleak increase in reduced work ability in the social welfare and health care sector. Reduced work ability has become increasingly common in all age-groups below the age of 50 and the situation has become especially poor for people under 30 in the past decade.

“In 2000, six per cent of people under 30 did not feel their work ability was as good as possible. In 2023, the corresponding number is 30 per cent,” says Kivimäki.

The reason is not clear, but there are indications. Reduced work ability in young professionals in the social welfare and healthcare sector is not explained by workload, job control opportunities, smoking or exercise habits. On the other hand, excess weight and obesity among young people have increased, and their estimates of their own experience of their physical health have deteriorated.

Further information 

  • Research Professor Jaana Laitinen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, jaana.laitinen [at] (jaana[dot]laitinen[at]ttl[dot]fi), tel. +358 (0)46 851 4426 
  • Research Professor Mika Kivimäki, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, mika.kivimaki [at] (mika[dot]kivimaki[at]helsinki[dot]fi), tel. +358 (0)50 448 9300 

Learn more about the studies

  • Wellbeing services county personnel survey: Presentation (in finnish) from the “Muutostrendit 2000–2023” press conference (pdf) 

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