What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
One of the easiest and most impactful means of offering employee’s support is via an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP, is, most commonly, an external platform that, according to PeopleSense an employer can provide to employees (and often their immediate family), to offer counselling and support services. This can be in the means of a phone number to call, email address or even a mobile number to text.The support offered can be for work related issues as well as for social or familial related issues. Issues are not always work-specific, though likely to affect an employee’s work.
It is a confidential platform offered by trained and qualified professionals. Employees can access this whenever they think that they need it most! This is an important, proactive, and individualised level of support that is offered to employees to ensure that they are able to manage their mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and associated triggers, before they reach “breaking point”.
The most common, reported, problems that employees disclose to EAPs to seek assistance in dealing with, include personal problems such as drug abuse (including alcoholism), financial problems, relationship separation or loss, and family violence. Job related stressors which are most discussed with EAP counsellors include employee relations/ conflicts, large workloads, and job security. According to SHRM, EAPs may offer a wide array of services above the traditional counselling, covering basic legal assistance and referrals, adoption assistance, help finding elder care services, wellness programs, and more.
Depending on the provider, an EAP can additionally offer:
- Crisis Calls
- Critical Incident Response
- Manager Support Services
Ultimately, an employer EAP offering removes a lot of the burden from employees. It is a professional level of support that is readily and conveniently available. Employees do not have to seek this out for themselves (including financially) or potentially, avoid doing so. Due to this, it provides for a heightened chance of early intervention on issues and hence, success in resolving (PeopleSense).
When might an EAP be important?
There are many situations that can take place within the employment-life that can have consequential impacts on an employees’ mental health. These may include redundancy, stand downs, termination processes, performance management and workplace investigations. It is important to note that the impacts of these processes can be far reaching – not just on those directly affected, but by families and co-workers, indirectly, too.
Of course, it is not only employment processes that can impact one’s mental health. Personal factors, as mentioned, can also have a consequential impact on an employee’s mental health and consequently, their work, including engagement levels, productivity and overall performance and output.
In more recent times we have seen the devastating impact of a global pandemic and natural disasters in Australia on people’s personal and professional lives.
As these phenomenons continue to rear their head in the workplace, wellbeing has become a necessary focus for businesses. Mental health initiatives and support are no longer ‘nice to haves’ but rather, more than ever before, they are ‘must haves’.
With so much uncertainty and intense change over the past two years as a result of COVID-19, globally, employees have inevitably felt a heightened sense of insecurity and isolation, with many employees now experiencing “COVID fatigue” (burnout). Although alarming, it is not surprising that 77% of Australian and New Zealand employees disclosed that they experienced burnout last year (Asana Report).
Moreover, employers have a positive obligation under Workplace health and safety laws, to ensure a healthy work environment – both physically and psychologically. There is an onus on employers, under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, to identify psychological hazards and remove or minimise the impact of these, by implementing effective control measures. An EAP strongly showcases that the employer endeavours to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
So, what’s in it for the employer?
Introducing an EAP should be viewed as mutually beneficial for both employers and employees. Improved employee wellbeing can see a direct reduction in absenteeism and improved employee performance and levels of engagement at work, according to Psychology Melbourne. By offering an EAP, an employer is communicating their care and empathy for their employees’ mental wellbeing, and that they are invested in providing a psychologically safe environment.
A happy employee in almost all instances equals a loyal employee. Retention of talent will ultimately reduce recruitment and training costs in the long run. Moreover, a productive employee will increase business profit margins.
Investing in an EAP may also enable an employer to better identify (through metrics and reporting) when people are potentially feeling less mentally well. Afterall, you want your employees to be bringing their best selves to work!
In addition, an EAP is a helpful, confidential, and impartial tool and resource for line managers (and HR!) to be able to offer their team when they have identified a potential issue, or they feel an employee may need that extra level of support. Managers can informally offer this in situations where they sense an employee may not want to disclose further details to them, but may like to do so confidentially, to a third-party. This offers managers a sense of empowerment in such discussions.
The ability to offer an EAP may assist managers in feeling more equipped in having mental health discussions with employees, and hence, helps reduce stigma associated with the mental health and wellbeing discussion, in the workplace, invigorating a well-being culture. It offers a foundational and visible support which goes hand-in-hand with any wellbeing initiatives, strategy and discussions.
By investing in an EAP, an employer is ensuring that employees are equipped to look after and prioritise their health and safety and hopefully, increase employee resilience. In turn, this may have a consequential impact (reduction) on workers compensation cases (particularly psychological claims).
According to Unmind, in order for an employer to reap the rewards of mental health and wellbeing initiatives, these need to be instilled in the culture and values of the workplace, with the EAP service and voluntary engagement, encouraged in all common practices and wellbeing strategy. There needs to be a continued commitment to communicating and advocating the program. This can be done through hanging posters around the workplace, issuing brochures to employees and sending regular communications out to all employees on how to access the service.
In summary, there is a strong return on investment into an EAP, with reduced absenteeism, increased presenteeism and a safer work environment. According to an HRM Online article “EAPs are widely thought to reduce corporate costs by influencing the variables (absenteeism, productivity, performance and turnover, etc) responsible for these costs” .
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.