The humble employee assistance programme (EAP) comes perilously close to what number crunchers might, in these straitened times, see as a luxury. Yet surely there has never been a greater need for counselling, whether face-to-face or by telephone.
Figures from Employee Advisory Resource’s EAP helpline show that the number of people seeking advice or support about employment contract termination alone rose by 55% between 2007 and 2008.
Employee Advisory Resource managing director Alan King says: “EAPs can play a key role in helping employees to get through these difficult times.
“Steps need to be taken to ensure employers have appropriate resources and the solutions in place to enable staff to tackle personal and work-related concerns before they affect work performance in any significant way,” he adds.
While this is undeniable, the single most important factor in getting value from your EAP is usage. There’s no point having a state-of-the-art EAP if employees don’t use it. Poor usage may be down to staff scepticism, or lack of confidence in the level of confidentiality involved – there’s always that niggling doubt that what they confide may end up on their record.
If you are implementing or upgrading an EAP, communication is crucial. The more staff know about what’s on offer, the better. You need to convince them of the benefits. Staff tend to forget they even have an EAP, so it’s worth reminding them occasionally. Rather than telling them at the induction stage, then not mentioning it again, remind them at least once a year that they have access to this valuable resource. And it needn’t be an expensive campaign – notices in the toilets can be as effective as anything more sophisticated.
Before you spend money on an EAP, find out what your staff want and need from it.
A survey should give you a good idea of the areas to cover – finance, health, workplace issues and relationships (both at home and at work) are essential. But it might be worth offering expertise on more detailed areas, such as substance abuse, bereavement or mental health.
Consider, too, the extent of your EAP. Should staff be able to access expertise on behalf of their families? And how is your EAP to fit into your overall people management strategy? Should your occupational health team have access to information on who has sought help from the EAP?
In too many companies, the EAP is almost an afterthought. Instead, make it a benefit. If you have a good EAP, make it a selling point. It should be an obvious part of the benefits package – during a recession, in particular, it should offer some degree of comfort to employees.
But however good your EAP, it should never replace personal contact. Even with an effective EAP in place, managers should keep an eye on staff. A loss in productivity could be an indication of a more serious problem.
While the anonymous voice at the end of the phone may be of enormous value to some people, others will benefit more from the reassurances or advice of a familiar figure.
For more information
Evolution EAP aims to transform the employee assistance market
Expert’s view: Alan King, managing director, Employee Advisory Resource
What are the biggest challenges?
Developing a strong partnership with the EAP provider is critical. Keep them updated on changing business goals and plans for the future and consider how actions in the organisation, such as office moves or redundancies, will affect the delivery of, and demand for, EAP services.
Communicate the EAP effectively. The best way to avoid performance issues and absenteeism is to ensure that problems are identified early and that employees know how to get professional help discreetly, quickly and efficiently.
An EAP on its own is not a magic solution. It should be embedded in the wider employee benefits strategy.
What should you avoid?
- Don’t be tempted to scale down investment in health and wellbeing benefits, employee assistance and absence management initiatives in these tough times. The medium-term damage of such a move far outweighs any savings.
- Don’t be lured by a one-stop shop. People and organisations come in all shapes and sizes. Make sure the solutions are tailored to fit both the organisation and the employee.
- Think carefully about your workforce demographic and your employees’ specific needs.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – this is the key to the success of any EAP.
- Regularly review your EAP and its performance.
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