Employee Assistance industry overview
The first significant efforts of organisations in helping individual employees resolve a personal problem that might impair their performance began in the nineteenth century in the United States, with a focus on alcoholism. Since then the workplace response to employees experiencing performance-impairing problems has gone global and undergone remarkable changes, extending alcoholism programmes to cover employees who are experiencing mental health problems and a broad spectrum of behavioural health problems.
During the evolution from industrial alcoholism programmes to more all-encompassing employee assistance programmes (EAPs), there has been a shift in the locus of such programmes. The trend has moved from placement of these programmes within a company to being inclusive of external contracted employee assistance services from local or national specialist organisations. Today, a large number of service provider organisations are involved in the delivery of EAP services, specialising in the delivery of contractual EAP services.
A more recent trend is the function that contracted EAP service providers have assumed in helping organisations directly manage their behavioural health care costs. This role ranges from screening and selecting behavioural health care providers, being a gatekeeper to employee access of behavioural health services, approving the type and duration of services, and providing case management of the whole service delivery process.
The Employee Assistance industry in South Africa
The first formally-structured EAP programme in South Africa was instituted by the Social Services Department of the South African Chamber of Mines in 1986. Three decades later, in line with global trends and through the development of employee assistance service provider companies, EAPs form an essential part within many work organisations, giving a human face to the South African world of work.
Notable trends in the evolution of EAP
The advent of technology, and changing attitudes and opinions across society and the world of work, are among the many factors that have pressured organisations to expand on their behavioural health and workplace wellbeing programmes for employees.
One of the clearest trends in employee assistance, since the industry’s inception, is its progressive expansion from having a single focus on a specific problem (alcoholism) to engaging in a limitless spectrum of employee problems: from focusing on substance-impaired employees to including substance-using employees; from practicing problem intervention to embracing problem prevention, wellness promotion, and life-work balance – along with employee recovery and retention as this relates to health-cost containment, risk management and critical incident management.
In the beginning, most EAP practitioners came to inhabit the role through their organisation’s training department or because of their own recovery. Today, most EAP professionals have a tertiary education and background in social work or mental health. Employee assistance associations, such as EAPA-SA, are dedicated not just to offering ongoing practitioner education, but also to the standardisation, upkeep and elevation of professional qualifications within the industry.
No employee assistance strategy in the 21st century can be fully executed without using, adapting, and applying technological resources, with many practitioners holding to the belief that the essential core benefits of EAP need not be lost while continuing to evolve and expand the boundaries of employee assistance through technology.
“No employee assistance strategy in the 21st century can be fully executed without using, adapting, and applying technological resources…”
“EAPs no longer just support employees struggling with a mental health issue in a moment of crisis, but employees and their families seeking general wellbeing.”
Like never before, EAPs are able go further than just tackling mental health-related issues in the workplace, providing holistic care by including such services as nutrition, fitness, legal and financial guidance and interpersonal relationships. EAPs no longer just support employees struggling with a mental health issue in a moment of crisis, but employees and their families seeking general wellbeing.
EAPs continue to make more and more sense in today’s workplace. They make sense for employees who are struggling with work and family issues and they make sense for employers who care about the well-being of their employees. Plus, they make good financial sense for an organisation’s bottom line.