First, let me start by saying that I’m a big proponent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). If your organization offers a robust EAP, your employees gain access to resources to help them manage life and a limited number of live/telehealth sessions for mental health issues. Their offerings are also extremely broad and can help with other things in life like wills, financial planning and legal support. Most EAPs also offer crisis assistance. So, if you have something happen within your organization, your EAP can hire a counselor to go into the facility to meet with employees.
However, when planning out a full employee wellbeing program, an EAP is just a first step. With employee wellbeing, to fully handle the challenge, your program needs to be well rounded and long term. Your EAP probably offers two or three calls for a specific situation. So, if your employee is dealing with ongoing stress, they’re not getting the ongoing help and support they need. Sure, they can be referred to a therapist, but most have wait lists at this point. Employee wellbeing isn’t a one, two or three call event. It’s ongoing and your programs need to be ongoing.
Another reason that EAPs are no longer working is because their full breadth is not fully understood or utilized from an employee perspective. Earlier in my HR career, I was at a conference and was listening to a breakout session talking about EAPs. The speaker asked the audience, which was full of all HR Professionals, “have YOU ever called your EAP?” Only a few hands went up and I was embarrassed that my hand wasn’t one of them. With everything I had going on, I spent time communicating the benefit, but never once called to check it out for myself. When I returned to the office, I did just that, but I still wonder how many are making the call to just learn about what their EAP has to offer? If HR isn’t calling the EAP, then it’s likely that employees are not calling it either.
There’s also a stigma attached to an EAP. I had an employee in my office once that was telling me that he was so stressed and depressed that he was contemplating suicide. I pulled out the EAP and brought the phone over. He refused to call, stating that he would be admitting failure if he called. Luckily, he did call later on, but it took a lot of convincing him that it was safe for him to do so. It’s my belief that employees feel that the EAP is not that secure and calling the EAP is risky.
Some organizations don’t always see the value in an EAP either. They don’t spend the money to offer an EAP for their employees because there’s a cost to it and it’s hard to realize a return on that investment. Because of that, most ancillary benefits, like life insurance or disability programs offer an add on EAP. These are great, once again, for one off situations, a couple of calls, or help with some basic legal and financial information, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that.
In order to address employee wellbeing, you need to look at it from many different angles. An EAP, as I mentioned earlier, is just a starting point. You need to look internally at your culture. Do you have a culture of psychological safety? Do your employees feel safe talking about mental health? Do your leaders create a safe environment for employees to raise their hands when they are stressed, overwhelmed or burnt out? Do you need to start with educating your managers? Do you need to find out what your employees need and are looking for and what works/doesn’t work for them? These are all places to dive into when thinking about your wellbeing strategy. At The Wellness Value, we can help you with a baseline of where you are today, what levers you can pull to improve, and we work with you to design a program that is robust and offers ongoing support both inside your organization and through outside resources. To learn more, visit us at www.thewellnessvalue.com