Employee Assistance Programs for a new generation of employees
“Workforce 2020” is dramatically differently than the workforce that original EAP programme developers most likely had in mind. And, by 2025 the cadre known as Millennials, also known as Gen-Y, will make up 75% of the world’s workforce. These young people, aged between 21 and 35 in 2017, represent 27 percent or ±14 million people within the South African population, and are responsible for some large shifts in mind-set. Compared to older workers, these younger employees appear to worry less about the stigma attached to asking for help regarding mental health and substance abuse issues. They view Employee Assistance Professionals (EAP) and programmes the same way as any resource at their fingertips to assist them in achieving success in their jobs or resolving workplace issues. With the Internet information super-highway at their disposal they also seem more familiar with mental health issues and have often already searched online for information before they look for assistance from an EAP. In addition, in order to “speak their language” it is essential for EAP resources to ensure they are culturally competent, being prepared and knowledgeable when talking to a blend of ethnic and social groups.1
2017 and beyond is all about technology.2
EAP as an industry in South Africa needs to address generational preferences as to how individuals in the workplace engage in and receive services. Internet and mobile access is growing even among the traditionally most underserved and vulnerable populations, particularly as a result of South Africans accessing the Internet on their smart phones; and younger workers are generally very comfortable with technology. Efforts to make EAP services more accessible through technology may include:
1. Computer-based training: On-line programs designed to solve behavioural health problems and change unhelpful thinking and behaviour. This includes webinars and podcasts on various subjects and interactive scenarios that teach managers to assess troubling employee situations, including when to refer to EAPs, contact human resources, call the police, or make physician referrals.
2. Online counselling: Use of internet to connect individuals with similar behavioural health issues and concerns and provide virtual support systems. This includes text messaging to facilitate communication among subscribed members; and e-mails providing non-clinical support, such as coaching.
3. Online social networks: Use of internet to connect individuals with similar behavioural health issues and concerns and provide virtual support systems
4. Live Chat: Allows employees to get instant assistance online for their questions and concerns and to speak with an expert confidentially to help find resources for a wide variety of personal, family and work-related concerns.
5. Mobile platforms for self-tracking and support: On-line tools designed as educational and support resources to increase self-awareness/self-efficacy. This includes online, interactive assessments of drug and alcohol use, stress levels, and depression.
6. Gaming: Specialized applications on behavioural health issues in a game format
7. Predictive analytics: Extracting information from data and using it to predict trends and behaviour patterns
So what innovations are ahead for EAP?
Technology is accelerating the pace of change and one thing is certain; in the digital era change is the norm. Here are some positive practical outcomes that the use of technology in EAP will generates.3
• The opportunity to reach strata of people who ordinarily could not be easily reached – either as a result of them being employed in a different province to head office or at a satellite office, or just because they work “after-hours” shifts.
• Twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week availability of Apps and particular EAP service offerings that are accessed by programme participants via the Internet, either from work or home. This has the added benefit of being accessible to the virtual workforce or those on medical or maternity leave.
• Coaching series programmes that involve multiple sessions, with a combination of some on-line and some individual coaching. This has the benefit of improving productivity in the process, being able to provide a service to more people for less cost.
• The ability to provide an easy-access library of straight-forward, topical information on a wide range of health and personal development areas for access by employees. This has the added value of engaging employees in a proactive manner and demystifying EAP programmes and their benefits.
• The continued mushrooming use of Apps and devices that provide new and innovative ways to help employees develop a healthier lifestyle.
• Real-time reporting and analysis that allows an EAP professionals to view up-to-the minute user activity and results “in the system” as participants follow a programme; or to compile valuable feedback for and employers or clients. This has the benefit of being able to track and measure so that accurate and useful data can be generated to demonstrate programme effectiveness.
• Readily accessible, ongoing training for EAP professionals to fit individual schedules.
• Analytics that will assist in predicting workplace needs and a move towards a more proactive approach.
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