Võõras Sõber provides a safety helmet to employees` mental health
Like a helmet and gloves protect workers from physical injury, we need to find means to protect mental health as well. This is what Ave-Gail Kaskla`s project Võõras Sõber is trying to find a solution for. The project was chosen for Ajujaht`s development programme and 30 best business ideas.
Võõras Sõber is a new counselling format, which enables employers to offer counselling to employees to prevent and mitigate risks related to mental health problems and concerns.
Counselling provides employees objective feedback on their thoughts, ideas and problems in a safe and confidential environment and provides the opportunity for insight to set goals for better coping and adapting to new situations, conditions or people.
An employee may experience concern and mental health issues for different reasons. Mostly, they have to do with overworking, burnout or workplace bullying.
“Not enough preventive work is done for employees mental health,“ says Ave-Gail and adds that if a person manages to go to a psychologist with their concerns and problems independently, then they usually already require therapy and often, as a result, cannot continue working. Võõras Sõber has made prevention its mission because in a modern society with an aging and declining population, it is vital for our future that all working age people are able to contribute maximally.
The idea came from Ave-Gaili`s personal interest in the area. “I have worked for a number of companies and seen as a bystander how much the employees mental health can change a company`s performance,“ she says.
She also looked at psychosocial risks and how to recognise them in the work environment in her Master`s thesis. Reading existing research, it became clear that risk management and prevention are preferred in large companies. “They have more resources and probably also a greater need to pay more attention to the work environment because the incidence rate of risk factors and public interest in the company are higher. Our service is designed for not only large companies, but also small and medium-sized companies, so they too can offer their employees high-quality protection and mental health risk prevention without spending too much money and time.“
There are several counselling service providers on the market, but Võõras Sõber sets itself apart from others in that the employer only pays for the service after the employee has actually used the counselling service. “in many companies, often the company purchases the possibility or a package for the employees, but nobody really uses it and the employer pays for a service that has not really been provided,“ explains Ave-Gail.
One reason why employees often don`t make it to preventive counselling or turn to a psychologist privately after the problem has become so big that they cannot manage it on their own anymore, is because employees do not want to admit to their employer that the work environment is mentally draining and the employee`s capacity to work has started to decline because of it.
Võõras Sõber is a reliable service for both the employer and the employee and offers a solution which allows employees to remain anonymous i.e. the employer only receives information that the company`s employee has been to counselling but the personal information is not forwarded. The general service consumption rate provides the employer with valuable feedback about how many people at the company need assistance. If necessary, Võõras Sõber also offers counselling by occupational and organisation psychologist to the employer to explain what the potential mental health risks at the specific company are and what else can be done to prevent and mitigate the risks. This helps create a safer work environment and gives the employee the courage to turn to counselling as soon as the problems appear.
According to Ave-Gail`s mentor, The Estonian Employers` Confederation Communication Project Manager Martin Hanson, this is quite a big problem in Estonia. “On average, every 100thEstonian man struggles with a serious psychological problem due to being overworked. We work too much and often pay more attention to our physical health than to our mental health.“ This leads to much bigger problems which need a different and often unexpected solution. “We cannot afford for people to be left out of the labour market,“ Martin explains the need to deal with the problem more than before.
Martin appreciates the anonymity factor the most about the idea, because often people are afraid to go to the HR Department with their problems. “Ave`s solution provides the possibility to seek help anonymously.“
Võõras Sõber became topical at the beginning of the year when a new amendment took effect, which guides employers to pay more attention to the subject. Martin says there is more to come in the near future, placing the obligation to pay attention to risks on the employers.
Ajujaht is Estonia’s largest business idea competition. Ajujaht was established by Enterprise Estonia, partner SEB and main sponsor Elisa. In addition to the aforementioned, Ajujaht is supported by Law Office Triniti, Estonian Employers` Confederation, Estonian Chamber of Agriculture, Harku Municipality, City of Pärnu, Saue Municipality, City of Tallinn, City of Tartu. Ajujaht is funded by Enterprise Estonia`s European Regional Development Fund finances. Ajujaht is implemented by Civitta Eesti AS, Kommunikatsioonibüroo JLP and Tehnopol.