Maintaining working capacity is everyone’s responsibility

6.9.2010 7.43
News item N5-55993

"The maintenance of people's working capacity in Finland must not be "outsourced" to occupational health care but is the common responsibility of employees, employers, occupational health care, occupational safety, and public sector health care", says Kristiina Mukala, MSAH Ministerial Counsellor for Health Affairs. Mukala also stresses that it would be impossible to oversee the working capacity of everyone in employment. Working life nowadays needs to be more tolerant and flexible, so that all existing working capacity is used.

The MSAH currently has two working groups that are looking for ways whereby people's working career could be lengthened by taking better care of their working capacity and improving their wellbeing. The working groups were set up in February this year.

Kristiina Mukala is involved in both working groups in her capacity as an occupational health care specialist. She hopes that the working groups will consider the maintaining of working capacity in its entirety and will not be content with cosmetic repairs to some feature of it.

"Occupational health care alone cannot take responsibility for maintaining working capacity. There are many actors involved, each with an equally important role."

Primary responsibility lies with oneself

"In the first place, everyone is responsible for maintaining their own working capacity. Each person must ensure that their diet is healthy, that they exercise, and have enough rest and sleep. But everything should be in moderation. People should have other things in life than work and maintaining their working capacity", says Mukala.

"People should get energy from work for their free time, and from their free time for work. Work must not be allowed to use up all one's energy; there needs to be time for recovery. The need for recovery depends on how strenuous the work is, and one's own condition and age. As people age, recovery becomes needed more often."

Mukala says that there is abundant information available on maintaining working capacity. It is another matter whether people know how to apply it to their own lives.

Employers are responsible for creating the kinds of working conditions that do not undermine the health of their employees. Occupational safety oversees this aspect of maintaining working capacity. The optimum would be if the employer considered the situation of employees more broadly and would be flexible according to their life situation.

"People's working capacity varies at different stages in life. For instance, when children are small home life makes demands and one perhaps can't make an input at work as much as in other stages in life. When the employer is flexible because the employee has a tight situation in life, then the employee will probably find the motivation to work harder when there's a rush at work", says Mukala.

"Know-how is an important aspect of working capacity. The employer and employee are both responsible for the employee being versed in his or her duties so well that there is no pressure created by a lack of know-how. Maintaining one's know-how improves the workplace atmosphere and the motivation of employees."

Occupational health care being purchased increasingly often

The task of occupational health care is to look at how the requirements of employees' health and the demands of work converge. The employer has to arrange for preventive occupational health care in all cases, even if there is only one employee. Preventive occupational health care includes, for instance, health checks in the kinds of jobs where there might be a threat to one's health. The employer can, if they want, include medical treatment within occupational health care.

Employers may arrange occupational health care by themselves, together with other employers or they can buy services from private health centres or municipal health centres. The trend is that employers more often buy occupational health care than organize it themselves.

"It would be important for occupational health care to have a long-term overall vision of workplace conditions and employees. If there is competition for occupational health care in the short-term and it often changes, this vision will not develop", Mukala says.

She is concerned about the occupational health care of small businesses. In such enterprises, the manager deals with personnel matters in addition to everything else. He or she perhaps does not have the know-how to compete and buy occupational health care, and may not necessarily know what should be procured.

Making use of the entire workforce

Kristiina Mukala thinks that it would be possible to extend people's working careers by making use of the entire workforce reserve. It is estimated that by using the working capacity of the unemployed and people on work disability pensions the labour force would increase by a fifth.

"In order that all existing working capacity is put to use, we should be more tolerant and flexible. We cannot demand a hundred percent working capacity from everyone in working life. Participating in working life, even with less input, and through it belonging to a community, will generally improve the quality of life."

Working career can also be extended by seeing to it that people are not wholly depleted by work. Working careers become longer when sickness absenteeism and periods of work disability become shorter.

"If it is pleasant to come to work, one is motivated to carry out one's duties and if the amount of work is such that people can cope, then it is unlikely that they will try to leave working life before their time. They will continue working for as long as it feels good", says Mukala.

"If work is continually in a twilight zone of strained energy and know-how and people do not enjoy being at work, then they will certainly start looking for ways to leave work for whatever reason. In that case it's all the same what retirement age we set."

Merja Moilanen