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Three observations about well-being at work in Finland

During the past six months, we at Aatos Health have been doing a multitude of product development interviews. We have interviewed people from production lines through managers to CEOs (and especially HR professionals). List of companies includes everything from startups with hyper-growth to large and stable corporations. Industries? Well, mostly tech, but also real estate, courier service, etc...

While there are a lot of differences between interviews, we have identified three things that stay constant over the conversations. These things weren't exactly what we were looking for when we started the interview campaign, so they are even more interesting in that aspect.

1. No matter person or position, people think mind related challenges concern only themselves

Can you read other people's thoughts? For most people, it is very difficult to perceive thoughts and feelings inside other people's minds. Do you know when your co-worker is experiencing uncertainty? Maybe you can deduce this indirectly, maybe the person has told you about it. Probably you haven’t heard anything about his or her feelings and your estimate is that the person doesn’t usually experience such a feeling. You think that your colleague is moderately confident in his or her doing.

The situation changes when you return to look at yourself. When asked about your experience with the feeling of uncertainty almost everyone answers yes. Yes, I sometimes feel inadequate, for example when giving an important presentation. We may be able to list even more specific situations. But miraculously, we don’t typically conclude that if I experience some emotion often, my colleagues may experience it as well.

We may see ourselves and our situations as truly unique: “There is not as much pressure in our organization’s expert roles as there is when working as a manager like I am”. That’s right, probably not the same pressure. But it still can be of its own kind, equally strong experience.

2. Organizations often have a focus on the work environment and its development

During the interviews, it has been nice to see how much employers think about the well-being of their employees. A lot of actions are taken in the workplace to make work less stressful.

What we have noticed is that the means of well-being development are usually related to the work environment: work arrangements, job descriptions, goals, pay, management work, IT systems, and so on. It is important to influence these, as they often make a difference to a large part of the staff.

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This can be thought of as an obstacle race, where work environment development represents lowering obstacles and maintaining the track. When the obstacles are lower and the running field is in better condition, the worker runs faster. Sounds great!

3. Personal well-being development means are abstract and fragmented

If we think of running competitions, the abilities of the individual are also important in terms of running performance. That is why organizations provide training to develop job-related skills, often known as hard skills.

Is it enough? What if the runner sleeps poorly the night before, isn’t motivated by the day’s race and the weather is challenging? What if he is less confident of motivated because of a leg injury? This is where the skill set called soft skills came into play.

Soft skills are a diverse set of skills that affect many parts of how we adapt and operate in our work and personal lives. Some of the soft skills are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Communication
  3. Teamwork
  4. Adaptability
  5. Problem-solving
  6. Work ethic
  7. Time management
  8. Self-directedness

According to various studies investing in these skills offers a good return. Developing both soft skills and hard skills should go hand in hand, and neither should be forgotten. Just think about a track in top condition, the feel of a sports festival, and a non-distracted, motivated runner in maximum shape. Winning is guaranteed!

What we discovered is that organizations rarely find concrete ways to support an individual’s ability to adapt to the conditions offered. Especially in a predictive and preventive way. In reality, the team leader and HR may have very limited and abstract means of supporting the employee in soft skills related matters. In our interviews typically the first thing that came to mind was the occupational health care, which doesn’t always seem like a suitable option. What to do then?

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