Whether it’s issues arising from managing others, a relationship, financial or housing problem, an employee assistance programme (EAP) offers support right at the point of need. And it is this explicit emphasis on the balance of work and personal life which exemplifies the uniqueness of EAPs: the problems don’t have to have arisen out of work.
Employees who access the benefit – which will be free to use and often available 24/7 – will typically have a preliminary conversation with a counsellor, either online or over the phone, during which there will be an initial assessment. From there, they will be referred to services locally available to them.
And the business case is clear: by addressing the relationship between a person’s working and personal life, and acknowledging fewer and fewer businesses expect their workforce to park their worries at the door, business outcomes and employee wellbeing are boosted.
The rationale behind implementing a programme is simple: if people are less distracted by things going on in their lives, they’ll do better at work. If a manager is speaking with an employee about a problem, they refer them to the programme – then as well as an employee benefit, it’s an employer-based performance and support tool.
For employers thinking of implementing an EAP, shopping around for a provider and programme that fits into your culture is the first step. Just because something has the highest cost doesn’t mean it’s going to have the biggest impact, and lots of EAP programmes are very embedded in pre-existing wellbeing programmes.
One key thing to look out for is what promotional support is offered. To get the best out of them, it’s crucial to find a provider you get on with, and who will offer you a lot of support as the programme rolls on, because it’s not just all about the initial implementation, it’s about continually promoting it. It’s a relationship.
A lot of EAPs provide management training on things like mental health resilience. Waiting lists can be long and postcode-orientated, but this offers immediate access to professionals in the mental health industry.
Employee feedback is a great way to check how satisfied people are with the service. The way to do this is using the data an EAP generates: so if a lot of employees have debt problems, you could run some financial education sessions. If there’s trauma from difficult customers, use that to install resilience programmes. A good EAP provider will give you those insights and help you make your programme your own.
Eugene Farrell is chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and mental health lead at AXA PPP Healthcare