Halfway is half-hearted with employee assistance programmes (EAPs). They should not be stuck on a shelf collecting dust, but actively managed, according to Brian Taylor. Here, he shares four ways that employers can capitalise on an EAP and embed it into the fabric of the organisation.
EAPs: the basics
I am becoming increasingly concerned at how many companies treat EAPs passively and go only halfway to maximising their potential. They fund a programme, hand out promotional leaflets and put up some wall posters, only to then place it in a filing cabinet under “done and dusted”. It is hardly surprising that everyone then treats an EAP as a box-ticking exercise.
Many employers would be amazed at the hidden treasures of EAPs and the wonders that they can do for staff wellbeing, morale and productivity. Your EAP should be at the very heart of your operation, the lifeblood keeping it thriving and developing.
There are two fundamental features of EAPs. First, employees should be fully and properly informed about all of the services contained within the EAP and constantly reminded that help is only a phone call away.
Second, management should be made aware that, although the service is anonymous and confidential, there is a lot of statistical data that they can use to improve the management of human resources.
As someone who is daily immersed in actively managing my clients’ use of their individually tailored EAPs, here are my four constant themes.
1.Integrate your EAP as part of your day-to-day practice
Make sure that you include EAPs in return-to-work discussions, disciplinary meetings and appraisals. This means that the service is embedded into the business and that staff know where to turn should they need any help or advice. Important information can also be shared through records of meetings and EAP data.
2. Look for telltale signs and make management referrals
Be proactive – manager referral is one of the key tools of an EAP. A line manager notices that a member of staff needs support and takes the initiative with early intervention. He or she flags the concern to HR, and then HR formally refers the team member to the EAP instead of waiting for them to call for help.
Encourage managers to keep an eye out for behavioural change within their respective teams and to look for signs of stress and mental health problems. Some examples could include work unexpectedly slipping, individuals going back to smoking after giving up, snapping at people, becoming withdrawn, taking extra trips to the toilet or having issues with presentation or loss of appetite.
Management referral is a vital feature of the EAP because the person who needs support is often the last to realise it.
3. Use the data goldmine
EAPs can work for companies on many different levels; including supporting staff in overcoming challenges of work and life, while also providing important anonymous data for employers.
Employers can make good use of statistics and information collected confidentially by EAPs. Reports are fed back to the business to flag concerns and show what areas could be improved. The data remains anonymous, but it can reveal crucial information about a particular department or area of the business.
It is broken down to show the number of cases that involve personal circumstances and those that are work related. These can then be broken down further to find employees who could be dealing with emotional, physical, or relationship issues or conflicts at work.
Reports can also show how many members of staff were referred for counselling sessions, whether those were over the phone or during face-to-face meetings.
From this, you can then see how many people completed the sessions, and how many stopped going.
You can also see the most popular page hits from your company, which gives an indication of employees’ general feelings about the company and where some staff might need more support.
It is all about looking for patterns. Look for the work-related issues that are presented. If there are lots of “conflict with colleague” incidents reported, maybe it is time for an away day. Perhaps your managers require some extra training on dealing with these issues. The feedback that you get from your EAP gives you the chance to see what is going on and plan how to make improvements.
4. Involve the CEO
Remember that an EAP is for everyone – the CEO, directors and senior management too, who are just as likely to need to make that call. High-power and high-stress atmospheres can be challenging, especially if difficult decisions are on the horizon.
I cannot think of a better way for the board to fully appreciate an EAP than when they have personally used the service.
Employers, staff and their immediate family members can call a free helpline any time of the day or night and be put through to specialist counsellors and advisers, trained to give medical, mental health and stress, legal and financial support.
One or two telephone calls may resolve their issue or, where appropriate, they can meet counsellors face to face. If a medical problem is more severe, then they may be referred to their GP to organise longer-term treatment.