Have you ever used the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provided by your employer? Do you know how to access it? When do you think you might use an EAP?
EAPs are confidential services that employers pay for, free for their employees. Employees may consult their EAP if they are experiencing virtually any of life’s stressors and feel as though they need some help. An employer may also direct their employee to their EAP if they feel that this is in their best interest. It is not a legal requirement but is something used by many workplaces to ensure that they are exercising their duty of care and providing services for employees who may need them.
Having worked in employee benefits for years, clients were often happy to tell me “We have an EAP!”. My response? “That’s great! What is your engagement like?” If engagement is low, great! Surely this means that their employees’ health is perfect, and they will never need counselling, yes? Sadly, probably not. With one in four of us experiencing mental health problems every year, I don’t believe that this is the case. It is much more likely that employees either don’t know it exists or feel as though they would not like to use the service for whatever reason. This could be due to fear, stigma or simply that they don’t believe they need it. If the answer was that the engagement was high, then that suggests that employees are in a lot of distress and more preventative measures need to be put in place.
There is undoubtedly merit in employers writing EAPs into their employee wellbeing proposition, the safety net of an EAP should be at the backbone of any company’s wellbeing agenda. But it is important to question whether this is enough for a business.
A simple way to think about an effective EAP is to think of it as the fire service. If there was a fire at your workplace, the fire brigade would be there to help you, hopefully before it caused too much damage. But that does not negate the need for fire training, fire exits and smoke detectors. Similarly, you cannot discount the potential need for the fire service despite having these preventative measures in place, regardless of how good they are.
In terms of finances, if someone needed help, unless they were in a severe state of stress, they would not go to a counsellor in the first instance. They might seek the help of a financial coach, planner or advisor, hopefully bypassing the turmoil that would lead them to seek out the help of a counsellor. The point is this - an EAP is not the same as an all-encompassing wellbeing initiative.
Employers are in a privileged position to offer tools and resources to their employees so that they are empowered to manage their own mental, physical, and financial health, in addition to counselling if things get too much.
Giving people the resources to prevent themselves reaching crisis point could not only reduce the number of people that reach it, but it could be great for their self-confidence and it may induce healthy behaviours to build wellbeing toolkits for future problems. Having the ability to instil these values in a person’s life is a power that employers can utilise to make their workplaces more productive and most importantly of all, happier.