The role of employee assistance programmes during economic uncertainty

With continuing economic uncertainty, an employee assistance programme (EAP) can be an effective way to manage risk caused by employee stress. EAP consultant David Price explains how.

Stress is a buzzword constantly thrown around by employers and employees alike, with no real understanding of what causes it or the extent to which it can effect individual employees or businesses as a whole.

As we enter another period of economic uncertainty, many employers are focused on business risks. However, they should not neglect employee health and wellbeing, given that job security and poor internal communication are among the biggest contributors to work-related stress.

Understand the power of thoughts on behaviour

Eckhart Tolle, author of “The power of now”, has claimed “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it”. Thoughts dictate how we perceive, act and react to situations, whether they are in our parameters of control or not. The recession and continuing economic uncertainty have shaken up how employees look at the organisational structure and their position within it.

While perfectly predicting what the future holds is impossible, employers can take steps to ensure that employees remain valued, happy and productive within their jobs. Remember, perception is key in business, playing an important factor both externally and internally.

If employees believe they have reason to be concerned regarding the current state of the business, then this can be detrimental to workplace morale and productivity, regardless of whether it is true or not.

Do not ignore solid communication practices

Communication is an easily accessible tool in business, but more often than not, employers and management teams neglect the importance of clear internal communication, believing that their employees understand what is happening and what needs to be done.

Benefits of an employee assistance programme

  • Recognises the need to support the interests of the company and the employee.
  • Helps maintain and improve workplace effectiveness and performance – personal and work-related problems can impair an individual’s ability to work effectively and efficiently.
  • Gives reassurance and peace of mind to users.
  • Reduces the amount of time off work that employees might otherwise need to set up and attend appointments with specialist advisers.
  • Generates management information that can be used proactively to target “hotspots” within the organisation.
  • Guides the organisation to best-practice solutions, which can help reduce or eliminate issues.

Employees are central to the message your customers or clients receive about your products and services. Therefore, ensuring they are up to date with all the necessary information is vital to continued business success. Furthermore, consistent and effective internal communication enables employees to work more efficiently, providing them with an understanding of how their role contributes to the wider purpose of the business.

The fear of not knowing what direction the company is taking and where their role sits within the organisation often leads to increased stress levels for employees. Management have the ability to prevent this from escalating through engaging with their staff, making them feel valued for their contributions to the business.

Part and parcel of feeling valued as an employee is knowing that management cares enough to include them in the business’ short-term and long-term plans, providing them with a chance to include their input, making the business more prepared for the future.

Devise an action plan

Employees look towards their management team for strength and leadership. In the absence of this, employees are left to carve their own path in the business, which is neither productive nor healthy for the employee or the organisation.

If employers are serious about improving levels of wellbeing, an internal communication plan is fundamental. Start by acknowledging that employees have a voice. They work on the front-line and so understand where possible difficulties lie and the ways in which they can be improved.

Employers should adopt an open-door policy that encourages employees to approach management teams with any issues they are facing, alongside a possible solution to the problem at hand. For any employees who struggle with voicing their concerns face to face, a confidential telephone advice service can help.

Employers should assess levels of staff wellbeing through anonymous surveys and continue this throughout the year. Employers can only truly understand the extent of the issue if they have the evidence in front of them. The most important point is to action the results. While it is great to acknowledge the presence of stress, without affirmative action, it will continue to be an issue.

Hold regular team meetings

Finally, managers should hold regular team meetings, which can serve as a platform to inform employees on recent developments in the business. This may include new projects added to the roster, and updates on the company’s targets and what employees can do to help achieve them. Always end these meetings on a positive note. If an employee has performed particularly well on a project, celebrate this. Not only will this show that employees are recognised for their hard work, but it will improve workplace morale, encouraging employees to continue their personal development and career progression.

David Price is managing director of EAP consultancy Health Assured.

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