What are employee assistance programmes (EAPs)?
An EAP provides confidential information, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues. The service is available around the clock via the telephone and online. A comprehensive EAP also provides access to structured face-to-face counselling where necessary. An EAP can also support an employer as well as providing advice to line managers, it can produce anonymous management information to help an employer identify and tackle workplace issues.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) give employers an opportunity to support staff, particularly during times of financial and emotional stress.
Central to an EAP’s operation is a confidential telephone line. This is available around the clock, providing staff with advice and information on a variety of matters, including psychological issues, relationship problems, addiction, childcare, eldercare, debt and legal worries.
All employees will be able to access support by phone or online, but an EAP can also refer staff for face-to-face counselling if necessary. This is available in more comprehensive EAPs, which may include a series of up to six or eight counselling sessions.
The level of cover will differ significantly depending on the provider; some will only offer information-based counselling that will signpost employees to written materials, whereas others will offer access to professionally trained counsellors, and legal and debt experts.
As well as using an EAP to help safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing, employers can also benefit. A healthier, happier workforce means lower sickness absence rates, increased productivity and higher levels of engagement.
Supporting line managers
An EAP can also help line managers to deal with any concerns they might have about employment issues or employee health. Some EAP’s have even developed specialist support for employers, including trauma management and mediation services.
A further benefit of EAPs to larger organisations is the management information that these yield. As long as the scheme is large enough for the data to remain anonymous, an EAP can provide an employer with details of the service usage.
This management information can give the employer an insight into potential problems in its workforce, for example high levels of work-related stress, bullying or low morale. Armed with this knowledge, it can make changes or adapt a health and wellbeing programme to prevent any issues from escalating.
As well as employers realising the benefits of EAP’s, the market’s growth has been driven by EAP’s being added to other health-related benefits. An EAP is now often provided as an added-value service with products such as a health cash plan, private medical insurance (PMI), group critical illness insurance or group income protection.
But the quality of these free EAP’s varies greatly. Some will provide access to face-to-face counselling and management information, but these elements are often stripped out.
Further complications arise where an EAP is not available to all employees, for example, where it is attached to a voluntary benefit or is part of the medical insurance offered only to management. Although some providers will automatically extend a free EAP to all staff, if it is available only to a subset of employees, the service can be difficult to promote, which leads to low utilisation.
There are ways to push up usage, however. Regular promotion of the service and the areas it covers can remind staff to use it, but EAP providers also recommend including the service in line-manager training. If line managers have referral to the EAP as one of their tools when dealing with employees, the number of service users will increase.
Access to online services can also help to increase usage, and an increasing number of EAP’s now include online resources. Logging into a service is simpler and less personal than speaking to a person, and this facility is particularly popular among younger employees and men. Because of this, many EAP providers have taken steps to reach out to these groups.
A further trend among EAP providers is to offer resilience training to employers looking to create a workplace that supports mental wellbeing.
The growth in the EAP market, coupled with pressure on price and the demand for more and more services, means consolidation among providers is likely in the next few years. Although this may take some of the more niche players out of the market, it will give those that remain the scale to deliver what employers and employees want.
Now more than ever, there is a strong business need to have an engaged Employee Assistance Programme partner to proactively address new workplace issues. Here are 6 ways to get more value from your EAP service. Together we can make EAP great again.
Promote your EAP effectively
Often, employees simply aren’t aware that their employer had an EAP – never mind being aware of the range of services they can access through it. This is a great marketing activity. Using leaflets, the intranet and a company wide newsletter will help to raise awareness of your EAP and its services. These should be ongoing promotional campaigns to ensure that your employees are up to speed.
It’s all about trust
EAP’s most of the time are dealing with highly personal issues. If your employee doesn’t trust your EAP, they won’t seek help. Therefore, the best way to build trust ins to give your employees direct exposure. It might be a good idea to arrange an onsite workshop/ presentation to allow your team to hear in detail what services it can offer. This will allow them to raise any concerns they have, particularly about confidentiality, and have them addressed properly.
Communication is key
EAPs are often viewed by employee’s primality as providers of counselling, when in fact, they provide a range of practical assistance such as legal advice, support on debt and caring issues. Most EAPs are available 24/7, which is important for employees to be aware of as many prefer to discuss their problems outside of work. Ensure that the full range of services and how they can be access are made clear in marketing campaigns.
Promote any wellbeing information offer by your EAP
If your EAP has is focussed around wellbeing, ensure that you promote this across your business. These are often rich information and interactive tools that can help people address certain issues at an early stage. It may also contain materials that help your employees look after their health and wellbeing in a proactive way. Some EAP’s have apps that allow your employees to make the most out of them.
Switch key people on to your EAP
Often the best way to improve employee uptake of your EAP is to boost awareness of it among people in your business who employees tend to approach when they are struggling. These could include your HR department and occupational health departments, as well as your organisational line managers and trade unions if you have them. Give them a comprehensive understanding of your EAP, what it offers and how it works so that they are more likely to refer staff with confidence.
Get more from your EAP data
Whilst EAP’s operate confidentially, they can usually provide you with anonymised data on the overall state of your employees’ wellbeing. This will give you great insight into areas where there is uptake or whether it is low and non-existent, allowing you to promote it to employees who might not be aware that it exists. The data can also highlight areas of your business experiencing issues like greater than normal stress levels, enabling you to offer some targeted intervention.
Promoting your EAP effectively and using its usage and impact data wisely will maximise the value you get from having it. The great thing about this is that not only is your business getting a better return on its EAP spend, more of your employees are getting the support they need as well – good news for everyone.