Join Karl Bennett, Director of Wellbeing at Vivup, as he discusses the true value of an effective Employee Assistance Programme and how that value is often marred by poor communications
What is the one undeniable measure when it comes to getting the most out of, or perceiving the return on investment from, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)?
Some say utilisation – i.e., the actual number of employees using the service. Others, myself included, believe that awareness and knowledge of service and a reduction is absenteeism are key to getting the most from your investment.
While suppliers may claim that their EAP is market-leading with better clinical or digital provisions than their competitors, or that their product offers the best value or cheapest service, the EAP holds no value if your employees don’t know it exists. I would venture so far as to say that no employee benefits actually amount to anything unless employees recognise how their ‘best in class’ service can help them personally.
in how an EAP can support an individual on a personal level is part of the problem. Not that an EAP can’t help – because it can and does. In fact, I’ve spent most of my working life promoting the amazing benefits of these services. It seems that the problem can lie with bad or insufficient communication and engagement on their confidentiality, ease of use and immediate access to the right counsellors.
EAPs tend to be wheeled out by employers to provide support when organisational shifts or world issues are taking place. Take a business going through some period of change, for example. Out comes the EAP to promote the fact that change can cause anxiety, and talking with a counsellor will help to reduce this anxiety.
Then there’s the current cost of living crisis. Once again, the EAP is wheeled out with the sentiment that it can help employees budget more effectively or manage the emotional impact associated with financial issues. Right now, with the passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, businesses across the globe are promoting how their EAP can support with issues around grief or bereavement. But herein lies the problem. There is a tendency to promote EAP as a single-use service for one specific time or issue. Change = anxiety. Financial issues = loss of control. Bereavement = grief. While these are all appropriate, they are often, not the whole story.
Let’s take the most current issue as an example. Businesses will be promoting the benefits of using their embedded EAP to support employees with the emotional fallout of bereavement and grief. The reason a business may respond in this way is because they see a single issue and promote how the EAP can support with that one particular issue. But what if I’m not emotionally affected by the loss of Her Majesty? I might be sympathetic, but I might also be more worried by the fact I need to travel to London when crowds and terror threats are at their highest.
On the other hand, maybe I’m affected by the national outpouring of grief because it reminds me of the friends and family I lost during the pandemic, which in turn reminds me of the loneliness I felt during those days and weeks of isolation. Perhaps I suffer with existential Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the constant conversations around death are triggering unwanted rituals or thought patterns in order to cope with the intrusive thoughts. Consistent communication of the full spectrum of services available 24/7 365 days a year is needed. Employees may not be affected by the here and now events but private issues such as divorce, grief, abuse, dept, stress, care giving loneliness etc.
There’s no denying that EAPs are an incredible tool for providing support. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking us for the assistance the EAP has given. In some instances, individuals have stated that the support they received saved their life. I genuinely believe that the best investment an employer can make is one that gives their staff access to a counsellor 24/7. But we need to remember that not everyone is impacted by the same thing at the same time. As employers, we should always be considering the peripheral issues of a situation.
Talk with your EAP provider about the factors which are likely to be impacting your teams and make sure you’re promoting all of them. Right now, you should be talking about every single facet of your EAP service – not just bereavement. If awareness generates utilisation, why narrow the reasons someone could, or should use their EAP? Continually promote every area of this vital product and normalise it’s use across your organisation. Ensure that your team know that whatever issue might be experiencing – be it a topical issue or otherwise – help is on hand and resources are available.
The very first thing I was taught when I entered the world of wellbeing at eighteen years old was that stress and anxiety affects us all in different ways, even when we are all experiencing the same things. It’s not a linear process, and therefore we cannot – and should not – rely on a generic, one size fits all approach.
The beauty of an EAP is that it is as unique as your workforce is. You just need to ensure that you’re communicating its virtues in an effective way so that your staff know it’s there for all of life’s ups and downs, and not just the ones that happen to be topical.
To find out more about our Wellbeing and Employee Assistance Programme, please contact Karl at [email protected]