In the last 26 months, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) have had to turn a corner, and fast, due to large-scale disruptions caused by COVID-19. From perhaps being seen as “just another employee benefit”, they have become an essential employee support service that is seen to be evolving and broadening its focus to keep pace with change, not only to support workers’ emotional wellbeing, but also to prevent wellbeing levels from sinking. How are EAPs keeping pace with employee needs since the advent of the COVID-19 and subsequent crises that have affected South African workers?
“In the last 26 months, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) have had to turn a corner, and fast, due to large-scale disruptions caused by COVID-19.”
The impact of COVID-19 on employees as context
Even as the fourth wave settles, and COVID-19 symptoms are generally less severe, the negative effects of COVID-19 on employees in the world of work are far from over. Physically, this reality is reflected in some common terms used to describe post-COVID symptoms, including long-COVID, long-haul COVID, post-COVID syndrome as well as post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. Mental illness was already rampant before COVID-19, but employee mental-health issues brought on by rapid change, isolation, contagion, grief, and economic hardship have skyrocketed. It is widely understood that in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a wave of stress and anxiety that in itself could be viewed as a pandemic.
“Keeping pace with change, EAP experts see a trend away from offering “single-use” EAPs and toward diverse, holistic benefits offered under an EAP umbrella.”
EA programme are broadening their offerings
Keeping pace with change, EAP experts see a trend away from offering “single-use” EAPs and toward diverse, holistic benefits offered under an EAP umbrella. While some organisations may still refer to their EAPs separately from their wellness programmes, others have already been forward thinking in combining them, recognising the natural overlap and melding programmes under the wellness umbrella. As a result, EAPs are now embracing broader, more holistic wellbeing services that are not only focused on mental health.
Going forward: If organisations are to maximize return on their investment, they need to add benefits that appeal to a broader range of employees. EAP providers must be willing to allow other non-clinical professionals such as health, wellness and sobriety advocates to partner with them proactively. Making EAPs more accessible to more employees will increase engagement and, subsequently, improve ROI.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) is falling under the EAP umbrella
DEI in the South African workplace is evolving, not only in the traditional ways in which organisations viewed it, but also as more complex and layered issues are considered. Organisations who are already offering employee resource groups (ERGs), which foster diversity and inclusion aligned with organisational values, and based on shared employee characteristics, have an advantage.
Going forward: Research has shown how discrimination in the workplace affects mental, physical and financial wellbeing. This makes it a natural issue for EAP within wellness programmes. Combining the power of EAP with ERGs could broaden an organisation’s ability to assist with the specific needs of minority groups within a workplace.
“Research has shown how discrimination in the workplace affects mental, physical and financial wellbeing. This makes it a natural issue for EAP within wellness programmes.”
Successful EAPs are tied to technological advancement
COVID-19’s impact has served to prove just how useful technology could be in keeping employees working, connected and engaged. Even before the pandemic, organisations with wellness Apps saw a spike in employee engagement. After workplaces were disrupted across the country, early adopter-employers used Apps to stay connected, provide mental support, roll out virtual-fitness classes and offer widely-requested health assessments. EAP service providers moved to deploy digital devices to connect clients with physical and mental-healthcare providers, and e-counselling has taken several leaps forward.
“The future of EAPs is certainly tied to technological advancement as much as it is scientific study.”
Going forward: The future of EAPs is certainly tied to technological advancement as much as it is scientific study. Mental health benefits need to be accessible and the access will need to be digital, with a variety of resources that flex to the needs of every employee. “Care options could include self-pace cognitive behavioural therapy tools, as well as treatment aligned to the needs of each individual. This can include coaching, help navigating care, therapy – both digitally enabled and in person – and lastly options for medication management.”
EAPs answer the need for financial wellness
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and under the Health & Wellness umbrella, employers are recognising the value of adding personal financial services and programmes to support their employees in reaching their personal goals and experiencing a level of financial security that builds a legacy for future generations.
Going forward: Expanded financial benefits will be a must-have as employees cope with the economic downturn. While EAPs have historically helped individuals with temporary debt issues, the modern EAP will need to cover a broader cross-section of employees who may be struggling with long-term debt. While financial counselling is not a new benefit, progressive EAPs will add more direct individual financial planning.
Certainly, EAP as an industry that began as a response to alcoholism in the workplace will continue to grow to encompass comprehensive health assistance, counselling, legal services, financial services and broader work-life solutions for employees the world over.
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