Kirsi Varhila starts as the new Permanent Secretary: What will change at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health?

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 1.10.2019 12.20
News item

Kirsi Varhila start as the new Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on 1 October. Varhila explains in an interview what changes she expects to see at the Ministry and what she intends to keep, how the current Government Programme will affect work at the Ministry and how she intends to promote wellbeing at work for her staff.

Link to the video (YouTube).

Transcript of the interview

How do you feel about starting as the new Permanent Secretary?

Thanks for asking. I am looking forward to my new job as Permanent Secretary. My background gives me a good starting point for the job. But, of course you also need curiosity and challenges, and ambition, in this job. It is an important and interesting post.

How do you think the current Government Programme will affect work at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health?

To sum up, the Government Programme will give us big reform packages. As usual, there is the health and social services reform to start with. One of its elements will probably be the improving of basic-level services, which is a big issue that will need a lot of expertise.

Then there is the social security reform, which is setting off quite nicely. It will start at committee level and extend across two government terms. We hope to gain a broader political perspective and maybe also stronger commitment when the road map is constructed in this way.

Then there are the issues of wellbeing at work and coping at work, and gender equality issues, too, play an important role in this context.

These are perhaps the biggest issues in the Government Programme that affect our Ministry.

What will you do first?

First I will familiarise myself with the new job and the immediate work community. I will get to know the heads of departments and learn about their pressing issues. And, of course the implementation of the Government Programme is another big issue I will be focusing on right away.

Then we also have the assessment launched by Minister Pekonen where we will collect feedback on the organisational and operational reforms the Ministry carried out two years ago. Wellbeing at work will play a major role in that.

What will you change and what will you keep at the Ministry?

There is a lot of great expertise at the Ministry, and I cannot emphasise that too much. As a whole, the Ministry could focus more on its strategic tasks and strategic guidance work, on one hand, and on legislative work, on the other. These are the Ministry’s main tasks. We are a big group, and we should intensify cooperation between the Ministry and its agencies and take a good look at how we could increase our cooperation on operational matters, so that we would not be doing it all at the Ministry – despite how much we would like to do all the operative work ourselves.

How do you intend to promote wellbeing at work at the Ministry?

We have fantastic and brilliant expertise at the Ministry when it comes to healthcare and social welfare. We are sometimes a bit too keen and motivated, and then perhaps we work a little too much.

I will be discussing with our managers how we could genuinely monitor the coping, workload and wellbeing at work of our staff. We should define clearly the core tasks we must do. And then we should decide what are the things that need less our time and effort. Especially when we identify peaks in workload we should clearly limit our efforts in other areas. We all have still a lot to learn in this area.

How do you recharge in your spare time?

My methods and ways are fairly traditional: cycling, outdoor activities, nature outings and hiking. A speciality is perhaps that I like swimming in 50-meter outdoor swimming pools. Their season is soon over, of course, but it is one of my ways of winding down.

Libraries, cultural events, basically everything that is completely different from what I do at work help me to recharge my batteries.