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 expe