Better use of ways to include people with partial work ability in employment

30.12.2014 12.12
News item N5-65537
Hundreds of thousands of people in Finland either are or are in danger of being excluded from working life due to illness or disability. Most of them would like to work if only it could be adapted to their situation. At present, the supply and demand of such work do not converge," explains Raija Tiainen, who heads the MSAH programme to reintroduce people with partial work ability into the labour force.

Tiainen points out that people with partial work ability make up a sizeable untapped potential labour force for the country. On an individual level, the issue is also a matter of fairness and compassion.

"Research increasingly shows that work is highly important in terms of life being rewarding and for your own wellbeing and that of those around you."

The MSAH programme to include people with partial work ability in working life has sought new conceptual approaches for enabling them to cope at work or to find employment.

These tools are to be tested in 12 pilot workplaces, and they involve businesses, occupational safety and health professionals and employment and economic development offices. Work ability coordinators have been appointed to the pilot workplaces, and they test the practical use of the methods being applied.

Some 260 500 people in Finland were on a disability pension in 2011, and about 10 per cent of them had retired due to partial work ability. Almost 25,000 people retire on a disability pension every year. The most usual causes of partial work ability are musculoskeletal and mental health problems

Navigating a fragmentary systemIt is still fairly usual for people to think that one either is or is not able to work. But Tiainen stresses that there are numerous alternatives between the two poles.

"By tailoring a range of methods, benefits and services we can create a package that provides people with partial work ability with the possibilities for getting a job or being able to continue with one. The means do exist but they are not being used effectively enough."

The inadequate use of such potential is largely due to the fragmentary nature of the system. The employment model often consists of segments - the workplace, social services, training and employment offices. Navigating them is not easy, and as Tiainen points out, people with partial work ability cannot be left to sink or swim.

"Even professionals find it hard to cope with the system. This is why with the programme model people with partial work ability are to be appointed a work ability coordinator who helps in customising the system."

Apart from finding the right approach, timing is also important. What often happens is that a single measure is taken on a wait-and-see basis. If it does not work, a second option is tried. In terms of endurance and motivation, the time used is not well spent.

"Whatever the appropriate solution, it should be put together right at the start. The longer you linger over an issue, the more adjustments you have to make. When the procedures are smooth, people proceed more easily towards the right goal," explains Tiainen.

Sluggish information flowMany variously titled professionals already put together various employment, service and support packages together with people with partial work ability, and in line with their different needs. The added value of the MSAH programme in this context is the training designed for professionals, the pilot period for which is underway.

"There are highly skilled people involved in this area, but they are often working alone. Cooperation is talked about but there are still high fences between the different sectors. This is why information and support are needed also for professionals," says Tiainen. She points out that the positive feedback the pilot training has received is largely precisely because of the opportunity it offers to create networks and discuss issues jointly.

One of the specific hindrances to generating solutions is the flow of information, which employees find should be far more flexible. Apart from the divisions between sectors, data protection rules are also an obstacle.

"Of course, data protection is important, but in such work we also see its downsides. Fortunately, some progress has been made with consent procedures."

Skills not deficienciesThe overriding aim of the MSAH programme is to draw attention to people's work ability, and to promote and support its use in every possible way. Realising this goal requires a re-examination of attitudes, Tiainen stresses.

"We are used to gawking at people's imperfections, which prevents us from recognising their strengths. People are not always able to see their skills themselves. The perspective of the programme is to take a positive approach by focussing on solutions and strengths."
Successful solutions on partial work ability have already been carried out in the pilot projects, and it is important that these are put into practice more broadly by the time the programme comes to an end next year. Tiainen is optimistic that they will.

"There is a big demand for coordinator training, so there will certainly be further possibilities for this. Meeting the training needs quickly repays itself. We are also putting together an easy-to-use online service for sharing solutions. There is additionally constant research going on in parallel with the programme, the results of which will be available to all after the programme ends."

Text: Paula Mannonen & Mark Weller