WELLS Finland aims to launch an innovation that supports employee wellbeing and prevents burnout

The new service is founded on the development of working skills and psychological flexibility, thus tackling acute problems in professional life. The WELLS course has already yielded promising results for university students.

Increased capacity for supporting mental wellbeing would be a boon for professional life. This goal is promoted by Henna Asikainen and Nina Katajavuori, Senior Lecturers in University Pedagogy at the University of Helsinki. They are developing a course-based wellbeing service aimed at providing employees with the capacity to face the strain of both everyday life and professional life, preventing, for example, serious burnout.

“When stressful situations arise, the course offers tools for coping with them,” Asikainen says. In Finland, roughly a quarter of all employees are at risk of occupational burnout. At the same time, one in eight people suffer from mental disorders globally. This causes not only human but also economic problems, which WELLS Finland intends to solve through its innovation.

The new service combines the attainment of wellbeing and professional working skills in a groundbreaking way. Research has shown that investment in early-stage support pays off in the promotion of mental health.

“We have to supplement therapies with proactive services that reach all employees,” Aino Muhonen, project’s Business Development Lead, sums up.

Many strengths compared to traditional self-help

Mental wellbeing has a positive effect on productivity. Correspondingly, wellbeing is supported by psychological flexibility – a skill that can be developed, for example, by learning time management, being present, self-compassion as well as the recognition of your own values and thoughts. These are precisely the elements in the focus in the WELLS Finland course. Participants receive instructions from a digital course platform, complete exercises in their everyday lives and contemplate the themes in group discussions.

“An important part of the process is learning to identify your negative thoughts and, in spite of them, act in accordance with your values,” Katajavuori says.

In its current form, the course is best suited to expert work. The course is available in both 12- and 6-week versions – the key is long-term practice of psychological flexibility.

WELLS Finland has several strengths compared to ordinary self-help options: the course is based on research and meets a high pedagogical standard, and it has been integrated with working skills that help manage stress. Group support also plays a significant role.

“It’s perceived as a resource that commits people to the course,” Katajavuori says.

Business pilots generate data

The course is based on acceptance and commitment therapy, the goal of which is to support a meaningful life. The course was piloted for the first time on University of Helsinki students in 2017. It has subsequently been developed further, showing promising results: the course benefits students who have in tests shown values indicative of burnout, but also those who have no similar problems. In August 2023, WELLS Finland received an 18-month Research to Business grant from Business Finland for commercialisation preparations. A team composed of psychologists, educational scientists, software developers and a commercialisation specialist, is currently reshaping the course to suit the employees of businesses and turning it into a long-term wellbeing service.

An important goal of the project is to collect data to validate the functionality of the service in businesses. In autumn 2023, the course was piloted on a small scale, and in the spring of 2024 a broader pilot round will be carried out in Finnish and international businesses.

“Companies that want to invest in the wellbeing of their staff should contact us,” Asikainen says.

The market for stress management is growing at a rapid rate

The new service has great commercial potential. According to Muhonen, the market focused on occupational wellbeing is growing at an annual rate of roughly 10%, while the value of workplace stress management services is expected to rise to $15 billion by 2028.

“The growth has been predicted to come precisely from new and preventive services, where our innovation also sits.”

WELLS Finland aims initially at the Nordic, European and English-speaking countries. In fact, the focus in the autumn 2024 pilots is on the international market. The course has already been tested on students in Belgium and China.

The team’s primary aim is to set up a spinout. At the moment, under investigation is whether the service should be sold to organisations directly or in cooperation with insurance and occupational health providers. For investors, the project is interesting especially because the product’s target group is the entire staff of businesses.

“The scalability of the user component is enormous,” Muhonen estimates.

The problem

People’s mental health and occupational wellbeing are being challenged both in Finland and globally. To avoid serious cases of burnout, the coping and working skills of employees should be proactively supported. Mental health problems have been calculated to cost the EU more than €600 billion per year, of which €240 billion is caused by, among other things, absences and reduced productivity at work.

The solution

WELLS Finland is a research-based well-being service that enables people to learn psychological flexibility and work skills. The service provides the capacity to face stressful situations and cope with professional life and studies alike.

Business model

The primary goal is to establish a spinout that offers solutions promoting stress management and coping at work to businesses and educational institutions. A range of licensing and partnership options are also investigated. The business operations are highly scalable.

Join the collaboration

WELLS Finland is looking to partner with investors familiar with the wellbeing and health technology sector. The team is happy to engage with businesses interested in the service.

Henna Asikainen
University Lecturer, project manager

Nina Katajavuori
University Lecturer, project manager

Aino Muhonen
Commercialisation Specialist

Follow the journey of WELLS Finland:
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