Experiences of success in working life arise from a sense of meaningfulness and from getting things done. At the same time, our work culture seems to have features that consume resources. How can a humane work culture be built in the workplace and factors that strengthen mental health be better taken into account?

Coping at work is discussed more than ever, but the means for improving it in our intensified working life can sometimes seem few and far between. A person's coping at work is based on, among other factors, how well different desires and needs they have for work are realized.

“In addition to securing a financial livelihood, people have a desire to succeed in their work and feel that their own achievements matter. We want to learn, seize new opportunities and be part of a group,” says Pauliina Mattila-Holappa, the director in charge of the Mental Health Toolkit project at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

While learning and opportunities can be inspiring, they can also be exhausting – you cannot seize everything. Development in your work is an opportunity, on the one hand, and a requirement, on the other. It must also be accepted that efficiency varies. You cannot always be at your best and you must set aside time to recover.

“A humane working life means that the demands of work are compatible withthe person’s own resources. In the language of occupational psychology, it could be said that the resources and requirements provided by work must be balanced.”

Employees that are healthy achieve better results

Humaneness and economic productivity may seem like opposing goals in working life. According to Mattila-Holapa, it may seem effective in the short term to make full use of people, so to speak, in order to maximize financial success or due to an acute financial situation, but this approach will not work in the longer term.

It is understood increasingly well in working life that human resources – that is, the people doing the work – is the most important resource that needs to be managed in the workplace. However, there needs to be more talk about the humanness of working life.

“Effectiveness and humaneness do not contradict each other, but rather are part of the same whole. Taking care of well-being can be seen as an investment. In a good work community there is trust and learning, colleagues are valued and there is a desire to achieve goals together.”

Mental health either strengthens or deteriorates in the workplace

Why do people work beyond their own resources, then? There is no simple answer, because there are many factors involved.

“There may be external requirements, staffing shortages or financial constraints. In addition, some reasons are based on our own goals, which are influenced by various factors related to our society, culture, values and work,” Mattila-Holappa says.

A growing number of people seek mental health-related support from health and welfare services, and the pressure of working life is one of the causes.

“It is good that people seek support for their well-being from many different directions; however, in work-related issues, solutions must be sought first and foremost within the work and in the daily life of work communities. Our culture must be changed more broadly to take human resources into account,” she says.

People spend a lot of time at work and work can either strengthen or weaken mental health. In the workplace, not only can work ability and mental health be promoted and problems prevented, but problems can also be addressed and corrective measures taken.

Tools from the Mental Health Toolkit

The Mental Health Toolkit of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health is a bundle of free digital tools to help work communities build a humane work culture that supports mental well-being. The tools help provide an overview of the factors that are part of work that promotes mental well-being.

These are practical tools that you can use to start working on a theme in your own work community. Some of the tools in the mental health toolkit support the workplace in forming an overview, and some provide more in-depth tools for the development of a specific area. Most of the tools are intended to be used together in the workplace.

By studying the tools and experimenting with them, you can get an idea of which of them may be functional or topical for your workplace. Should we look at well-being at work, recovery practices or develop management supportive of mental health? Or should we maybe develop our occupational health co-operation, for example, from the perspective of mental well-being?

If you are wondering how to get started, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health provides help for this free of charge (in Finnish). Throughout this year, the Mental Health Toolkit project will provide free consultation on the use of the tools. Experts from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health can be invited to your own workplace to present the toolkit and the tools it contains, help in their use or give a workshop on a specific tool.


Pauliina Mattila-Holappa, Senior Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.