Rounding the corner on the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic could generate an influx of health claims, mental health issues, and complex family and work-related issues that have been bubbling under the surface for months. With staggered or full return to the workplace demands, the change in routine and emotional strain may be enough to turn a somewhat manageable problem into a debilitating issue for employees. Although EAPs have been around for decades, they remain the quiet, but steady, resource for employee assessments, short-term counselling, and referrals. EAP utilization may not be fully maximized due to misleading beliefs employees have about them. As a result, now may be an ideal time to inform and educate employees, so they can use the services that are designed to help them better navigate choppy waters.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) are voluntary, work-based services that offer free and confidential support for employees with job or personal challenges. Additionally, EAPs help employers and their workforce deal with emergency response situations such as workplace trauma or violence and support leaders with challenging work-related organizational situations.
Based on a 2019 Conference Board of Canada summary report, the main EAP providers include LifeWorks Inc (formerly Morneau Shepell), Homewood Health, Health Canada and ComPysch. LifeWorks Inc. has a predominant hold on the EAP market with almost 80 percent of survey respondents confirming LifeWorks Inc. as their service provider.
While many employers include an EAP as part of their employee benefits program, they remain an under-promoted and under-utilized service. EAPs are a valuable preventative resource to help address employee issues before they become a full-blown dilemma. The challenge is misleading employee beliefs about EAPs which result in under-utilized services.
As per the Conference Board of Canada’s 2019 study, utilization statistics or employee EAP usage rates range from 8 to 38 percent. On average, usage tends to hover around 11 percent.
Generally, human resources professionals are the main contacts who coordinate the relationship between the organization and the EAP provider. Frequently, EAP services charge a flat fee per employee per month regardless of whether the employee uses the EAP or not. No identifying information about the employee is shared with the organization, but concerns remain for employees about the degree of confidentiality. In some cases, they worry that they might even get fired if they use the EAP.
While it is commonly shared that there is a good return on investment with savings from $5 to $16 for every dollar invested in an EAP, not a great deal of human capital research is available on EAP benchmarking or indicators such as referrals, follow-up services, and employee education. Additionally, EAP promotion has not been top of the radar screen for employers — perhaps, at least, not until now.
Dispelling misleading beliefs can be undertaken by promoting and educating employees about the EAP services available to them. It can be as simple and cost-effective as following these steps.
Whether it is a digital town hall meeting or the start of a small team meeting, a five to ten minute introduction or a reminder about the services and value of your EAP may plant a helpful seed or bust through fear-based misperceptions. Also, employee onboarding and new leader training can be a key time to provide EAP education.
At an upcoming meeting, feature a guest speaker who represents the EAP provider and who can speak specifically to the skills and qualifications of EAP professionals. Point out that EAP counsellors are required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in a counselling discipline such as social work or counselling psychology. Many counsellors also have several years experience working with a vast range of situations.
Employees commonly worry that their employer will have access to the details of their EAP usage. Traditionally, lack of privacy is the number one reason EAP utilization has been low. Communicate to employees the type of information that is shared by the EAP provider, which only includes general usage. Reassume them that names and any personal information remains confidential between the employee and the EAP counsellor.
Educate employees that EAP services are not only for crisis situations, substance abuse, or mental health issues and that no problem is too minor. There are several other resources available (as many as 20 depending on the EAP provider). Employees can access the EAP directly via a confidential phone number. Also, on-line support is available free, with crisis intervention services available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Clarify confusion as to who can access the EAP especially if it includes self-referrals from the employee, their eligible dependents, or anyone living in their home.
Employees benefit from being reminded that the service is voluntary and not mandatory. Explain that a leader can suggest the employee use the EAP, especially if it is believed their performance has declined or they notice usual changes in the employee’s behaviour, but they can not mandate that an employee contact the EAP.
Also, it is helpful to reiterate that the EAP provides short-term counselling of five to six 60-minute sessions. Counsellors are trained to refer clients who need additional or alternate support. Employees should be reminded that access to the EAP is free, but that referrals to other community resources made through the EAP may incur a fee that is the responsibility of the employee.
These are just some of the many tips available to promote misleading beliefs about employee assistance programs. We are pleased to offer additional resources including our Remote Care Wellness Toolkit. If you would like a digital copy of this toolkit or other employee benefits-related information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s work together and create solutions that work best for you and your organization.