Topical issues related to Mehiläinen's Working Life Services, 2/2014

Memory problems and the operation of the brain among people of working age

The nature of work has shifted more and more toward information work wherein various challenges related to the operation of our memory have become an integral part of the daily work of many people of working age. In information work, the correct processing of data in tasks that require concentration has a crucial role, and we are also required to do many other things simultaneously. E-mail, text messages, and other distractions interrupt our work frequently and divide our attention. Work is often very time-sensitive, and the break and rest periods cannot be chosen freely. We cannot always decrease our work load at the times when doing so would be best for us.

Therefore, it is not at all rare for many workers to experience difficulties with their memory and concentration, and such cognitive symptoms are becoming more and more topical in occupational health care. Cognitive ‘memory issues' should always be taken seriously, even if actual degenerative memory diseases are still quite rare among people of working age.

Be aware of the effect of fatigue on memory-related skills

Experiences of weakened memory skills are often related to difficulty in maintaining one's concentration and attention or caused by overload of the working memory. The working memory, or short-term memory, cannot cope if there are too many simultaneous tasks and many distractions. In addition, lack of sleep, haste, stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, liberal use of intoxicants, and certain medications (such as benzodiazepines, which have a sedative effect) can reduce your alertness and attention level.

A condition of severe fatigue also exhibits many of the same symptoms for the brain's frontal lobe that occur in a state of depression. There is an increase of load and cognitive issues when smooth and consistent performance of tasks slows down and the worker is distracted. Significant weakening of one's event memory, which is part of the long-term memory functions, is typical in Alzheimer's disease, but it is observed to some extent in cases of work-related fatigue and depression too, in which it is also related to overload of the working memory.

In the organisation of work, a person's individual ways of handling data processing should be taken into consideration, and enough work-pace self-regulation and optimal conditions for concentration should be enabled when they are called for. Also, the facilities and tools (including machines and data-processing equipment, with their various interfaces) should be such that they match how humans operate, not vice versa.

Take care of your cardiac health

A person can take care of his or her own memory and cognitive capability by, first of all, looking after his or her cardiac health. This means not smoking, adhering to a diet that is good for the heart, exercising regularly, and tending to any high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This decreases the risk of both cardiac and brain disorders.

The brain needs work

To stay healthy, the brain requires the right amount of load, just as the muscles do. An excessively low level of haste and activity is just as hazardous to brain functions as too much haste and activity are – for example, highly monotonous and repetitive work is very challenging for the maintenance of vigour, alertness, and brain capacity.

Exercise and be involved socially

Physical activity and exercise are excellent training for the brain. Our mood, alertness, and attentiveness increase immediately after physical exercise. Being active in social events is beneficial; it provides training for the brain and supplements the effect of physical and intellectual activity.

Sleep is essential for memory functions

The things we gather in our mind during the day are mainly processed in the brain's hippocampus during a good night's sleep. When our sleep is healthy, things remain in our long-term memory. The amount and quality of sleep are important. We need approximately 3–5 full 90-minute sleep cycles, each with stages of both deep sleep and lighter REM sleep: when we are easily awakened and have plenty of dreams. Stress, anxiety, and use of intoxicants and sedatives always affect the quality, and often also the amount, of sleep.

When does one need to examine memory functions in more detail?

It is good to examine the nature of memory problems in more detail when the cognitive issues experienced by a person of working age cannot be clearly explained by the above-mentioned issues and the problems cannot be corrected through the associated procedures. In this case, one must also consider the possibility of a degenerative memory disease. In order for occupational health services to screen and assess the memory symptoms of those above 55 years of age, the CERAD exercise series can be used with an accompanying neuropsychological examination. The former can be moderately useful in detection of symptoms associated with, for example, Alzheimer's disease, and the latter serves in even more detailed differentiation between functional and organic cognitive disorders. If specialist health examinations are needed, it is the task of the neurological memory clinic to arrange these.

Ari Rosenvall

Specialist in general practice

Mehiläinen Ympyrätalo

Corporate customers were active at the online brainstorming event organised by Mehiläinen

Earlier this year, Mehiläinen organised an online brainstorming event intended for users of occupational health services. The goal of the brainstorming event was to get the participants involved in discussing and creating new ideas surrounding the key issues that affect customer experience. The results will be utilised in the improvement and strengthening of the customer experience at Mehiläinen.

In all, 4,430 users of our occupational health services participated in the online brainstorming event. Of these respondents, 107 reported that they were participating in the survey in the role of decision-maker. The online brainstorming event was implemented in co-operation with Fountain Park Oy, a company specialising in the utilisation of collective intelligence.

Comprehensive, easy to use, and geared for meeting individual needs

The responses received via the online brainstorming event emphasised the importance of the comprehensive nature of the services, their customisability in line with customer needs, and their ease of use. In addition to smoothly operating services, there was an expectation that the occupational health service partner would apply itself energetically to addressing the customer's individual needs. With regard to corporate customers, this means, for example, the service provider understanding the customer's business environment and the structure of its work force.

The participants also stressed the significance of the provision of comprehensive solutions in response to their needs. Sometimes, a challenge can arise if the benefits offered for the customer cannot be presented in a sufficiently meaningful manner to the decision-makers. Some of the decision-makers also expressed a wish that the occupational health service providers would question the existing practices more vehemently. Mehiläinen's service offering was considered extensive.

Initial level among the best in the industry

Various research results report on the strong initial level of the customer experience offered by Mehiläinen. For example, each year Taloustutkimus Oy carries out an independent, nationwide company-image survey targeting labour-market decision-makers, and in 2013, the respondents (N = 1,023) evaluated Mehiläinen to be the most extensive and reliable occupational health service provider in its sector. In the same survey, Mehiläinen shared the highest overall score (8.12) with another service provider.

‘By utilising modern tools, such as online brainstorming events, we can engage our customers in the planning of our services even more, and we can guarantee that our development work is focused on the issues that are most significant to the customers,' says Kimmo Huhtimo, Mehiläinen's Director of Customer Experience.

Mehiläinen monitors its customers' experiences of service events in real time, using a net promoter score.

‘We will also publish the results on our Web site. Understanding the customer must be at the centre of everything we do, stresses Huhtimo.

For more information, please contact:

Kimmo Huhtimo, tel. +358 40 131 6628

The new government Decree on the principles of good occupational health care practice, VNA 708/2013

The new government Decree on the principles of good occupational health care practice took effect on 1 January 2014. The goal with the Decree is to identify work-related illnesses, prevent disability, reduce differences in health status, and manage the ability to work. The purpose is to improve the efficacy of occupational health care and to strengthen the co-operation among the various actors involved in occupational health care. The aim is to shift the focus of occupational health care even further toward the promotion of employee health and work capacity and to prevent disability. The significance of workplace surveys will increase.

The new Decree is intended to clarify the tasks involved in occupational health care, the distribution of these tasks, and how these operations mesh with other health-related services. Co-operation will be enhanced especially in relation to issues of evaluation of work capacity. The co-operation will emphasise awareness, preparedness, and participation. In health examinations, the emphasis will shift toward the monitoring of work capacity. A personal health plan will be employed, with the aim of improving the options for remaining at work.

An actor new to occupational health care practice, increasing its quality, is an expert in the social services sector, who will be responsible for the planning and monitoring of social rehabilitation.

Behind this change are the discussions held between the labour market organisations about the need to extend careers in Finland. The new decree was prepared in co-operation with the authorities, the actors in working life, and experts in occupational health care, and it is based on the proposals made by the occupational health care development work group.

Practical invoicing electronically

Does your company have an electronic processing system for purchase invoices? Do you still accept invoices in paper form? You can receive your occupational health service invoices in a practical electronic format if you simply send us a request for this, at Please state your company's operator code for electronic invoicing, your EDI code, and the e-mail address to which we can send the attachments that require transmission in accordance with the Act on the Protection of Privacy in Electronic Communications. The attachments are sent encrypted and cannot be sent to an external address, such as an accounting firm address.

Note: We regret that we cannot yet send electronic invoices to our customers operating under a customer contract. This is because of attachment files required by Kela that need to be signed.We aim to work actively to improve the practices in our field and also to provide companies with suitable electronic invoicing solutions far into the future.