More than ever, there is a blurring of lines between work and home. It is impossible for personal problems to remain at home, especially as we continue to tackle COVID-19. If these issues are not properly addressed and resolved in a timely manner, they can have an effect on morale and end up costing the business in loss in productivity, sick leave, and/or turnover.
An Employee Assistance Program is a service that a business can purchase in order to offer its employees with short-term professional counselling for any type of issue. These can range from health and safety concerns, financial and legal matters, relationship and family issues, and work-related problems.
EAP counselling is aimed at assisting employees to:
- Understand and clarify issues that are directly concerning them.
- Identify and explore options to address those issues.
- Develop plans to approach the issues and find construction solutions.
As a result, an EAP can help decrease staff turnover and absenteeism. When used, EAP counselling can help to support ongoing wellbeing of your employees. In fact, studies show that EAP services deliver $6.47 return on investment for every one dollar spent.
Although many Australian businesses have an EAP provider, less than 10 percent of their employees exercise their employee assistance program benefits. This is because many people do not trust the process.
All you have to do is to take a look at questions that people put into Google:
- “Can I be fired for using EAP?”
- “Can you trust EAP?”
- “Is the EAP confidential?”
Clearly we can see a trend of distrust when it comes to disclosing sensitive information in the workplace which is concerning to us as EAPs can help organisations adopt a more proactive, preventative approach to workplace mental health.
Unfortunately, Employee Assistance Programs are negatively perceived by employees as a cost-effect people management measure, a risk mitigation tool, and ‘a tick the box thing’ by management.
In order to increase EAP utility, we must first understand why people are reluctant to engage their EAP service.
Common reasons why employees do not access their EAP services
Employees are afraid to divulge personal information
Nobody wants their private struggles to become public knowledge, or worse yet, have what they say impact their work relationships. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to getting employees to use their EAP – the fear that what they disclose will come back to hurt them.
Trust, confidence, and respect for legal rights is essential when dealing with the personal concerns of employees. This is why it is critical to have an external EAP partner who can provide off-site and remote counselling services as all EAP sessions are confidential because we are not permitted to disclose the content of their sessions to anyone unless permission is given or compelled to by law.
Or perhaps they’re embarrassed that they are going through a divorce or dealing with an alcohol abuse problem.
People still have a stigma or aversion to seeking mental health assistance
Typically 1 in 5 workers are suffering from a mental health condition at any one time.
Asking for help is difficult and employees are less likely to seek assistance for a mental health condition from their direct manager or human resources.
In mentally unhealthy workplaces, only 38% of employees would approach their direct manager for assistance with 41% willing to approach HR for assistance. What this highlights is that an overwhelming majority of employees in mentally unhealthy environments have no means of accessing the help they need.
There is a misconception that they must ask for permission from management
Another reason why employees do not access their EAP is because they are afraid of management finding out that they are ‘unwell’.
For example, employees of Queensland Government have access to free, professional and confidential counselling services via a number of EAP providers. However, on their EAP page, they unfortunately have a poor choice of words – “You may use the EAP at your own time. However, if you require time off during work hours to attend an appointment, you need approval from your supervisor.”
From their wording, it could be inferred that permission from management is required to attend a counselling service – which is not the case as most EAPs have 24/7 toll-free numbers that employees can access confidentially.
Staff do not know if their issue is relevant
Many employees believe that EAPs are reserved for emergency situations only. Therefore, someone who may benefit from support on matters that may not be seen as ‘emergencies’ such as budgeting, caregiving issues, or job burnout may not know that they can access EAP services.
Most people understand that EAP offers counselling but Employee Assistance Programs covers so much more than that.
How to increase the use of EAP benefits at your workplace
For EAPs to offer maximum benefit to your organisation, employees must feel that the program is a safe environment where issues and concerns are dealt with in a professional manner. Second, staff must feel protected against job loss, criminal sanctions, or embarrassment.
Here are a few ways to better educate your employees about EAPs:
- Promote it year-round. While many workplaces promote their social gatherings and membership perks, many forget to include their Employee Assistance Program. Instead, include EAP in your internal newsletter, webinars and communications to remove the stigma of seeking help.
- Offer a training session for all managers. People in managerial positions are not necessarily equipped to deal with team members who require mental health assistance. A training session can provide managers with ways to spot signs that their colleagues are experiencing prolonged stress. Training can provide them with a process on how to approach sensitive situations.
- Ask your EAP partner to come into the office to provide relatable examples of how and when they can access the service. Not only will this remove the mystery behind who they will have access to, but having psychologists talk about ‘non-emergency’ matters will help your staff understand that they can reach out at any time for any reason.
- Create physical and digital FAQs. With confidentiality being the biggest barrier to EAP access, make sure employees understand that there are privacy laws in place. Include this in all materials and communication so that it becomes common knowledge in the workplace. Similarly, make instructions clear to highlight that employees may access their services at any time they choose. No manager or HR permission is required.
- Champion company leaders to share their personal experiences. Fostering an open culture requires buy-in from the top. If company culture shuns vulnerabilities, embracing something such as EAP will be difficult.
New Vision Psychology: Your Trusted EAP partner
One way to maximise EAP benefits is to engage a private psychology practice for your EAP counselling services instead of a regular EAP company.
This is because most off-the-shelf Employee Assistance Programs provide a hard limit of typically 3-6 sessions per employee. That is, they’re a short term solution. From our experience, the average client tends to need 6-12 sessions to see sustainable change and some mental health issues require long-term therapy to see success.
An advantage of going through a private psychology practice for EAP is that after the initial 3-6 sessions your employee may choose to continue therapy with the same psychologist. This removes the need for him/her to look for another psychologist – continuity and feeling safe is core to therapy success. Therefore, a private psychology practice is able to provide the support an employee needs if they so choose.
In addition to this, we have a culturally diverse team who can provide your team with counselling in multiple languages. Our rates are competitive in the EAP market and a number of our psychologists have over 2 decades of corporate experience.
For more information and to get a quote, click here.
- Employee Assistance Program Services in Australia industry trends (2015-2020) – IBISWorld.
- Employee Assistance Programs in Australia: the perspective of organisational leaders across sectors – Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources.
- Why hardly anyone uses Employee Assistance Programs – How Stuff Works.
- Employee Assistance Report – Volume 18, No. 3, March 2015.
- State of workplace mental health in Australia – Heads Up.
- Employee Assistance Programs have low utilization – HR Technologist.