How to make an EAP deliver

There are five key steps to ensuring you make your EAP deliver which are supported by case studies and survey evidence from XpertHR and other organisations.

1. Integrate the EAP into the organisation’s overall health and wellbeing strategy

An EAP is most effective if integrated with an organisation’s other health and wellbeing policies and provision, including the absence-management framework and occupational health (OH) service, according to XpertHR.

For example, AXA PPP, a company that provides an EAP service and uses it for its own employees, supports mental health charity MIND’s “Taking care of business” campaign which aims to build awareness about mental health and stress issues in the workplace.

The most effective EAPs have senior-management support, are integrated with organisational and HR strategy, and are linked to employee engagement and employee performance.

The EAP should also be tailored to the needs of the organisation. The first principle is early intervention to prevent mental health problems from reaching crisis point, and this was included in Dame Carol Black’s recommendations for health and work which have been adopted by the Government. Employers can do this by providing information to employees and managers and by training managers to be aware of mental health issues and how to tackle them.

It is important to promote the idea to line managers and employees that the EAP is about more than counseling and can include other services such as online health information.

2. Engage line managers in managing stress

Line managers are key to identifying when individuals are suffering from stress, and should be alert to significant and sustained changes in employee behaviour.

Most EAPs offer the option of management referral to the service, and managers should be aware of changes in the behaviour of employees which could be caused by factors such as: financial difficulties; an increase in pressure; a decrease or change in social support; bereavement; promotion; increased or different responsibilities; problems at home; boredom; and illness.

Spotting these changes early is the key. Managers should be trained in how to engage in a conversation with the affected employee in such a way as to encourage them to get help. If this is done badly, however, an employee may try to cover up their problems.

Managers can also access the EAP themselves and get advice on strategies for supporting employees who may be suffering from stress-related mental health problems, and dealing with awkward conversations.

There should be a clear and transparent referral process for managers who need to refer employees for specialist help, usually to the OH service.

Use the OH service

OH professionals can take a leading role in training line managers and even HR. An OH adviser can also provide an initial confidential assessment of the situation, including identifying if there are alcohol and drug problems, childcare and eldercare issues, or financial and legal problems.

OH can also refer individuals for specialist help if required and liaise with GPs, particularly where a GP fit note indicates that an employee may be able to return to work with some adjustments.

Promote the EAP

An EAP should be continuously supported through all the communication channels available in an organisation, perhaps through “employee champions” who promote health and wellbeing among colleagues, or through health events organised by the OH or HR department to engage employees in taking responsibility for their own wellbeing. Other promotional activities can include leaflets and posters, Q&A sessions and visits from the service provider to explain how it can benefit managers and employees.

Organisations should also make full use of company intranets, especially with younger employees in mind, using interactive forums, healthchecks, stress assessments and even cognitive behavioural therapy, according to XpertHR.

Identify return on investment

EAP providers should provide regular management reports on the operation of the service using anonymised data to show: how different parts of the organisation are using the service (including stress hotspots); trends in how usage patterns have changed over time; satisfaction rates with the service; levels of referrals which are a cause of concern; and trends in the nature of the problems employees are presenting, for example a rise in financial concerns or worries about dependents.

The organisation can then address problem areas and introduce workplace adjustments that mitigate against employee stress . Beyond this, employers can use the feedback to develop a more proactive and preventative approach to wellbeing, and also engage other services to support employees (for example, stress busting therapies or financial advice services).

It is difficult to provide direct indicators of how an EAP is performing because data such as absence rates are affected by a range of variables. However, by using a range of indicators such as employee opinion surveys, return to work feedback, and engagement levels with wellbeing interventions among staff, it is possible for an employer to assess the performance of an EAP over time.

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