At the University of Oulu, the academic environment plays a crucial role in employee wellbeing. While work is quite autonomous, securing external funding is a significant stress factor due to its associated time pressures. This, in turn, affects resilience and noticeably contributes to mental health challenges. Individuals who pursue academic careers and roles in the higher education sector often have aspirations to excel in their scientific careers and invest in their roles as researchers, but this can be energy-consuming. Auntie was introduced to assist managers because according to an internal employee wellbeing survey, they were experiencing high levels of stress, and additional proactive support was needed.
At the University of Oulu, the results of Auntie have been monitored through the Auntie Insights service. The feedback and wellbeing outcomes achieved by managers who have used Auntie packages are as follows:
- 100% recommend Auntie.
- Service satisfaction rating is 9.2 out of 10.
- Wellbeing has increased by 23.4%.
Tero Vedenjuoksu serves as the HR Development Manager. Working together with his team, he is responsible for workforce management, skills development, and leadership matters. Tero explains their approach: "We have a strategy that includes an action plan for high-quality leadership and managerial work. It's one of our key focus areas through which we aim to implement initiatives across our entire 3700-strong organisation, enhance wellbeing, and improve the competence of our staff. It also guides our internal service offerings in a way that places managers as a clear focus group – their wellbeing and skills are intended to have an impact that cuts across the entire organisation."
According to Tero, the results of a wellbeing survey conducted in 2021 revealed that people were very satisfied with the work of their managers, considering it of high quality. However, on the flip side, managers were a group facing significant challenges with regards to their resilience and needed support.
Auntie further lowers the threshold for seeking support with everyday challenges
"The wellbeing of managers reflects on the wellbeing of the entire team and radiates outward from there”, says HR Solution Designer Terhi Halonen. “It would be beneficial to start addressing the situation from the group of managers. We could achieve multiple positive outcomes by doing so. Seeking assistance from Auntie doesn't stigmatise anyone, as it offers support for challenges we all can face in our careers. That's why we wanted to give Auntie a try”.
Terhi, who is responsible for matters related to employee wellbeing and competence development at the University of Oulu, continues: "At the University of Oulu, mental wellbeing is currently a focal point, as we are in the process of applying for the Finnish 'Hyvän mielen työpaikka®' (meaning Workplace with a Good Feeling) certification, so we are currently investing in that. Of course, Auntie is a significant part of this, but we have also been considering other methods, starting from occupational health cooperation.”
Individuals in the age range of 30-40 emerged as a group with wellbeing challenges in the survey. They are essentially the group that is building their careers, forming research teams, and establishing their research fields. Terhi mentions that the high prevalence of short-term and temporary contracts in the academic environment is one of the stress factors affecting their wellbeing. Particularly for young researchers, the pressure of seeking funding and temporary employment contracts are evident as drops in wellbeing in the survey. Dependency on external funding poses challenges to career development, especially when individuals are simultaneously building a family and taking on mortgage responsibilities.
Additionally, mental health issues among student youth impact teachers, but if the teaching staff is not well, it also affects the students.
“The wellbeing of managers reflects on the wellbeing of the entire team and radiates outward from there. It would be beneficial to start addressing the situation from the group of managers. We could achieve multiple positive outcomes by doing so. Seeking assistance from Auntie doesn't stigmatise anyone, as it offers support for challenges we all can face in our careers. That's why we wanted to give Auntie a try”.
Terhi Halonen, HR Solution Designer, University of Oulu
Management is a part of career development in academia as well.
Managers at the University of Oulu are primarily researchers, which means they are top experts in their respective fields of study. In total, there are around 350 managers or team leads, with approximately 100 serving as unit heads and about 250 as immediate supervisors supporting the largest units to ensure that teams remain manageable in size.
According to Tero, project funding combined with wellbeing challenges poses its own set of challenges. Often, funding is specifically allocated to a particular theme, and the research can usually only be carried out by the researcher or research group that secured the funding. In simplified terms, if a researcher has to go on sick leave due to issues related to their wellbeing, how can the promised research be delivered to the funding source?
Tero is contemplating the return on investment (ROI) of wellbeing investments, as highlighted by Auntie: "Converting things into euros is of interest, even though it's highly speculative. However, we don't have a queue of potential managers waiting, so we want to provide as much support as possible to already onboarded managers who are developing their skills. I believe that we also get an ROI when supervisors are well and can assist the entire community in promoting wellbeing and productivity. It's challenging to support others if you can't stand strong yourself." Terhi adds that they have observed a correlation between positive wellbeing survey results and successful units.
Positive feedback from users
Regarding the procurement of Auntie, Tero explains that as a public organisation, they naturally had to formally evaluate the competitiveness of options, engaging in dialogues with other service providers. "Fortunately, we ended up choosing Auntie. We didn't really find an equivalent service in the survey we conducted," Tero says.
“The best thing about Auntie is that it's hard to make it any more user-friendly. The barrier to seek support is really low. The service offers easily recognizable, well-conceptualised packages that stimulate thoughts.”
Tero Vedenjuoksu, HR Development Manager, University of Oulun yliopisto
Based on the feedback and experiences, Auntie has been very well-targeted and hit the mark. Tero has been considering what the target level of Auntie's usage could be to ensure that everyone who feels they need help can also make use of the support as he looks at expanding the usage to individuals beyond just managers.
In addition to Stressed Out and Lost in Transition, packages specifically designed for leaders, such as Born to Lead, Dream Team in Process, and Leader in Rough Waters, have been among the most popular.
In the open responses from Auntie users, situations have been vividly described, showing that addressing challenging situations at an early stage has genuinely helped prevent the development of more significant problems. On average, the university community sets high standards for themselves, and based on experiences and feedback, Auntie has assisted in grounding people in this regard.
According to the feedback, managers are satisfied with the proactive support they have received, and they appreciate the availability of Auntie. However, there is still a perception that the threshold to approach Auntie might be too high. Tero suggests that it could be communicated more that support can be sought even before issues become critical.
User-friendliness eases the path to seeking help
A pleasant surprise has been the diversity of languages available in Auntie, which is a significant advantage in an international work environment. It's essential to be able to discuss difficult topics in one's native language. Approximately 25% of the staff, around 900 individuals, have a non-Finnish background, with a particular focus on teaching and research personnel.
"The best thing about Auntie is that it's hard to make it any more user-friendly,” says Tero. “The barrier to seek support is really low. The service offers easily recognizable, well-conceptualised packages that stimulate thoughts.”
Terhi appreciates that the packages can be tailored to the specific situation. Good product packaging by Auntie is a crucial advantage, as the names and descriptions of the packages can make users consider their own challenges and where they might want to seek help.
"We definitely can't help but recommend Auntie to other organisations because based on the results, users' experiences and reviews have been so positive," Terhi says.
In Terhi's view, employees nowadays expect and demand investments in mental wellbeing matters. Especially the younger generation is quick to vote with their feet, making it an attraction and retention factor for employees.
"Talking about mental wellbeing may not always be easy, not even for us, but we encourage others to genuinely invest in it because it's worthwhile," Tero remarks. "The only capital we and other higher education institutions have is our people and the expertise they possess. If we don't invest in their wellbeing, it would be unwise from a business perspective."
University of Oulu
The personnel services of the University of Oulu also cover the university of applied sciences. There is a staff of 3,700 in the university and just under 500 in the university of applied sciences. The total number of students is around 13,000. Within the University of Oulu Group, there are roughly a little over 2,000 teaching and research staff, and about 1,200 belong to other staff categories, including service personnel. Teaching and research are closely intertwined, so practically everyone both teaches and conducts research. For more information, visit oulu.fi/fi