Many large (and some smaller) employers have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) as part of their employee benefit offering. It’s often managed by HR and once in place it can become an expensive organisational cost that very few employees make use of, regardless of how much you promote the scheme.
Your EAP can be an excellent tool in supporting your mental health and wellbeing strategy, particularly now during COVID-19.
Here are my tips for getting the most from your EAP. (If you don’t currently have an EAP check out EAP Association to find a reputable provider).
1. Get to know your Account Manager
Building a strong relationship with your account manager is really important to help them understand your business. The more they understand about your organisation, the culture and working environment the more they can tailor their offering to meet your needs. What’s worked really well for me in the past is to think about onboarding a supplier in the same way I would a new team member. Think about what information would be really useful for them to know:
- Structure of the organisation
- Working environment
- Make up of workforce
All this information is likely to have been provided in the procurement process but it’s not until you start working together that this really comes to life.
If you have particularly unique or difficult working environments think about how you can familiarise those working on the contract to a familiarisation day so they can see the workplace for themselves and understand the business.
2. Create a ‘User Group’
A small (online) user group, made up of key stakeholders can help gather valuable insights about what’s needed and feedback about what’s on offer. Stakeholders may include representation from your EAP provider, HR, managers, TU reps (if you have them) and staff. Depending on the size of your organisation, and level of outsourcing, the EAP user group may best sit within a larger ‘service provider’ user group.
3. Analyse Data
You’ll no doubt have a host of data available to you so analyse it. Look at your sickness absence data, engagement survey responses, EAP user statistics and any other data you might have to give you insight into your staff’s mental health wellbeing:
- What % of your staff are reporting mental health related reasons for absence (stress, anxiety, depression)
- Could other reasons for absence reported be masking mental health related absence?
- Are particular teams reporting more mental health absence than others? If so why might that be?
- What’s the diversity break down of those reporting mental health related absence – age, gender, part time/full time, race, staff group etc.
- Does your staff engagement survey give you any information about the mental wellbeing of your teams. In a past organisation the engagement survey was linked to the HSE stress risk assessment which captured some of this information.
- What’s the diversity breakdown of those using your EAP? What are the reported reasons etc.
Notwithstanding confidentiality share as much of your data with your provider as possible.
4. Plan Events
Ask your EAP provider what (online) events they can host to support mental health in the workplace. As well as the usual access to the provider’s website and telephone/online counselling your EAP provider will often be able to provide tailored support for workplace mental health including:
- (Virtual) Roadshows – aimed at managers and staff to raise awareness about the EAP.
- Calendar of events – around key dates (Time to Talk Day (February), World Mental Health Day (October), National Stress Awareness Day (November)
- Webinars – may be bespoke or links to pre-recorded about topics such as coping with uncertainty of Coronavirus, emotional resilience, coping with life events, wellbeing, stress, anxiety, mood management and mindfulness.
- Plan ahead for Health and Wellbeing Days (post COVID-19) – we won’t be in lockdown forever and now is a great time to be planning the support your teams will need in the future. Your EAP provider can often help by providing expert guest speakers and promotional materials.
- Promotion – through communications plan (often your provider is happy to provide wording/emails/leaflets for you to bespoke).
Review the initiatives that work well for you and build on those ideas. It’s not a one size fits all and different approaches may work in different parts of the business. Use the collective knowledge of your User Group to inform what will work where and when.
5. Make Use of Technology
Many EAPs have their own apps so make sure your teams know how to access them. Encourage those on furlough, working from home or in their usual workplace to make good use of the many free resources on your EAP provider’s website, especially webinars.
6. Keep Your Management Population Updated
Managers have a tough job supporting their teams, especially when there’s a global pandemic and EVERYONE is affected. Your managers may be struggling with their own issues and will still have a moral and legal duty of care to their teams.
Your EAP can provide telephone support and/or online counselling for managers and staff who are concerned about the mental health of others. Think about having a Manager’s Guide to EAP that helps explain what’s on offer and how to access it.
7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
Promoting your EAP can be challenging and in my experience, you can’t communicate enough. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve mentioned the organisation’s EAP to a manager or employee and they either don’t know what it was or didn’t know how to access it. Involve your User Group and EAP provider in helping you come up with creative ideas to get the word out (when you’re back in the workplace posters on toilet doors are often the most effective but while many people are based at home, how about a mailout to home addresses or an onscreen message with EAP details as part of the logon process). If you’re unionised or have staff representatives involve them in helping to spread the word.
If you don’t already, think about including details of the EAP in formal HR letters (e.g. furlough, sickness absence, disciplinary and grievance etc) to signpost staff at particularly difficult times.
When you’ve found something that works, do it some more and build on it.
If you’re interested in finding out more about supporting mental health in the workplace get in touch: