Employee Assistance Programmes have become an integral component in the modern UK workplace. Employers constantly seek solutions to optimise workforce wellbeing which in turn increases productivity.
EAPs support this challenge by offering employees with easy access to essential resources and support that help with work/life challenges.
Despite increasing popularity, only a small percentage of the average workforce access their EAP. Problems such as debt; relationship issues, stress and depression are widespread in the UK today and EAP’s are equipped to deal with such issues.
So why aren’t more employees using their services and what can employers do if their employees are not utilising the EAP benefits they have access to?
As an EAP provider and former senior NHS manager, I have often heard employees in my own and other customer organisations state “I didn’t know we had access to that”.
This criticism can often be placed with the EAP provider; however, usage, publicity/promotion and employee engagement is an organisational responsibility as much as a provider one.
Engagement is a key driver to increasing usage rates. Senior management team ‘buy in’ is integral to ensuring EAP is embedded within organisational policy and process.
There are several things employers can do to increase the use of EAP benefits among their employees:
- Increase awareness: It is vital that employees are aware that the organisation offers EAP provision. Hosting workplace Health and Wellbeing Days once or twice a year for employees, offers them an opportunity to learn about EAP benefits and how to access them. Consider creating events which are aligned with National Health Promotion days such as ‘World Mental Health Day’. Providing all new employees with information packs and presentations on induction ensures that new starters are aware of available EAP resources during the onboarding process. Managers, as the first line of support for employees, need to be trained to facilitate supportive conversations and to have knowledge of available support services to signpost employees into.
- Clarify how to access your EAP provision: Your employees may know there is EAP provision within the organisation but may be unclear how to access it. Posters; wallet cards, organisation intranet sites and ensuring EAP contact details are standing agenda items in team meetings, promote easy and accessible routes to support. It is paramount to make it clear how accessible your EAP benefits are to employees.
- Reinforce Confidentiality: Managers often state that more needs to be done to reassure employees about the confidentiality of the service. The most common question from employees accessing EAP provision is “Will my line manager or other employees find out that I have contacted the service?”. It is imperative to emphasise that it is absolutely confidential (unless the client wants to harm himself or herself or others, then the therapist has a duty to intervene). We need to remind employees that no reports come back to the organisation and that there is no external record of their use of the EAP. Confidentiality is key to getting good rapport and high utilisation of the service.
- Remember EAP is not just for counselling! EAP’s provide a wide range of practical assistance such as legal advice, debt assistance and support with caring and welfare issues as well as psychological support. Most EAP’s provide 24/7 provision. Employees value this ‘round the clock’ provision as some will want to discuss their issues away from the workplace. Promoting the full range of services and their ease of access increases employee engagement.
Once employees have a clear understanding of their EAP benefits and how to use them, they are much more likely to seek help when they need it.
How you ensure your EAP has future proofed its offering
Companies are increasingly recognising the impact poor mental health can have on employees and their productivity. Historically EAPs have been viewed as a reactive service offering treatment to employees who self-identify as having issues. This approach poses a problem with employee engagement as only a small percentage of staff will come forward and ask for assistance.
EAP’s need to consider their engagement methodology to ensure they have multiple channels of opportunity to seek advice, information and support to provide a preventative solution focussed approach. Technology boosts participation in EAP’s from around 10% to around 30%. Using technology to deliver support is effective because employees are likely to feel safer behind a screen and in the confines of an environment that they are comfortable in. Many clients report that they engage more with their counsellors via the telephone; online and digitally and would not have done so in person.
Technology and employee working patterns, hours and methodology are all rapidly changing the way we work. EAP’s are required to constantly consider how we work alongside employers and employees to ensure we are an accessible support tool that meets the expectations of a workforce spanning the generational and age groups we support. EAP’s who utilise technology provide employees with an opportunity to seek help at a time convenient for them, wherever they are. A digital program or mobile app can reach out to an employee who may work remotely or for those who cannot access a PC at work. Working in a busy office environment is not the best place to contact an EAP via telephone or a PC.
My role within EAPA and the work we do, supports the industry to look at how we engage and how we future proof. This often means adding to our core baseline service to innovate and challenge ourselves as an industry to ensure we move forward and offer a variety of engagement platforms
How you integrate your EAP provision with other elements of your mental health and wellbeing strategy
Research shows that where organisations prioritise staff health and wellbeing and actively engage with staff to develop work in this area, levels of engagement increase, as does staff morale, loyalty, innovation, productivity, all resulting in higher quality service delivery.
In order to deliver a high-quality service, organisations need staff that are healthy, well and at work. Looking after the holistic health and wellbeing needs of staff directly contributes to increased productivity and better staff retention rates. EAP’s can assist in developing and sustaining a collaborative health and wellbeing approach.
EAP’s can often provide a central hub/website which provides psychological, physical, financial, and legal information, advice and support. Incorporating psychological support within these services removes any perceived stigma which is an integral part of encouraging employees to feel they can also discuss their emotional wellbeing.
Providing a holistic, joined-up approach to mental, physical and financial health, enables the organisation to link all of its wellbeing initiatives with its goals for diversity and inclusion, creating an open, healthy and supportive environment across all levels of the organisation
As an EAP provider we always talk to commissioning organisations about creating a ‘360-degree approach to health and wellbeing’. It is important to remember that EAP’s are not a silo offering. Engagement with key stakeholders such as Occupational Health, Unions, Human Resources and the senior management of the organisation are vital for EAP to be owned and embedded by the organisation and more importantly utilised and valued by employees.
About the Author
Tracey Paxton has 30 years’ experience of working within the NHS as a practicing clinician and a senior hospital manager. Tracey is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner/Non-Medical Prescriber and Registered Nurse in Learning Disabilities and Mental Health and has an MSc in Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy. Having a keen interest in both physical and mental health, Tracey is also an Exercise/GP Referral Consultant, as well as having teaching qualifications and vast experience in delivering a range of mental and physical health and well-being training. Tracey has published research in an international nursing journal in conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire and has also received a national award in the House of Lords for her work within Mental Health. Tracey is the Director of Operations for Vivup EAP and has extensive experience of managing NHS EAP services. Her combined knowledge and practical experience of being a qualified nurse, senior NHS manager, qualified workplace mediator, trauma expert and a practicing cognitive behavioral psychotherapist has enabled Tracey to fully understand the practical complexities of working within the NHS. Tracey is a lead reviewer for the Quality Network for Forensic Mental Health Services (QNFMHS) and sits on the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) National Executive Board.