EAP’s Impact on Employee Wellness and Productivity during Economic Recession | EAPA-SA


What is productivity?

The definition of productivity, according to Focus Economics, a news and research resource that supplies economic intelligence for 127 countries, is: “Productivity is considered by some to be the most important area of economics and yet one of the least understood. Its simplest definition is output per hour worked, however, productivity in the real world is not that simple. Productivity is a major factor in an economy’s ability to grow and therefore is the greatest determinant of the standard of living for a given person or group of people. It is the reason why a worker today makes much more than a century ago, because each hour of work produces more output of goods and services.”1


Productivity on a global scale

Over decades, productivity has typically been measured as increasing during a recession.  This is logical when you consider that in a pared down workforce, less people are doing more work; or if people are worried about being retrenched they are likely to work harder to keep their jobs.  However, in the last few years experts have reported that productivity has widely not been measured as increasing during recession or bouncing back to previous levels when economic up-turn takes place.  There is much debate as to why, and varied contributing factors are cited as having a negative effect on post recession productivity.  These include the effect of government economic policy, the lack of a major technological event (such as Y2K) or the slow uptake of technology in smaller organisations, significant generational shift in the workplace, miscalculation regarding the rate of productivity – and a whole host of other economic factors.1

Productivity at an organisational and individual level

But, what about productivity in the workplace from the perspective of the everyday employer or employee?  The reality of economic recession is it that it takes a physical, mental and financial toll on the health of employees across all levels within an organisation.

Here are three practical factors that may negatively affect employee productivity in a period of recession: 2

  1. An increase in workplace pressure
  • Growing job insecurity which causes feelings of uncertainty and psychological strain.
  • Management’s expectation of the same levels of output in reduced working hours.
  • An increase in the close-monitoring of employees causing feelings of pressure.
  1. Workplace change
  • Staff cuts and the restructuring are likely to have an effect on poor employee perceptions of supervisor support and workplace inclusion, as well as overall job quality.
  • The reallocation of tasks may well increase work pressure as employees get to grips with new tasks and increased responsibility.
  1. Personal financial crises
  • People may have a tough time making ends meet for their families, for example a fall in hourly pay may increase financial pressure on the home front.


From an organisational or team perspective: Employer priorities shift focus during times of economic hardship.  However, during economic recession wellness programmes and the counselling services of EA professionals can assist organisations to achieve important long-term goals such as the retention of valuable employees, cost control and maintenance of employee engagement and morale.  In the case of restructuring, it is also assists managers over a difficult time where they have to implement staff cuts while simultaneously keeping productivity and motivation high among remaining staff members.

From an individual perspective:  EAPs and wellness programmes are perfectly positioned to assist employees in overcoming the negative impact of a recession-hit workplace.  These serve to combat stress and depression which can lead to a drop in productivity owing to absenteeism through stress and ill-health, and a lack of engagement due to low morale.

Through information support, providing cost-effective coaching and management-support in times of downturn and tight budgets – or offering support around personal and professional relationships– EAPs can provide a valuable, easy access, support resource that has a positive impact on individual, team and company performance.  Here are three ways in which EAPs can have a positive impact on maintaining productivity, particularly over a time of workplace change or restructuring:

  1. Group communication sessions3

When people don’t have information, they fill the gap with speculation.  Being aware of, and responding to, your entire workforce as they go through a workplace adjustment period makes it important to provide as much information as possible and to guide employee expectations.  Group information sessions provide everyone with the same information and may be more appealing to employees who are not at ease with discussing personal matters on a one-to-one basis.  Making information available in an open forum where employees can interact and become more familiar with EA professionals makes it more comfortable for certain employees to approach EAP counsellors if needed.

  1. Individual counselling by EA professionals

Considering that different people respond to change differently, the option of professional, one-to-one counselling by an EA professional is recommended.  Having the option of counselling makes employees feel supported by their employer.  Counselling allows employees to air their feelings without fear of this affecting their job security, and to look beyond immediate circumstances to what the future holds for them within the organisation.

  1. Offering a financial wellness programme4

Along with fears about job security come increased fears of financial insecurity.  Employers are beginning to realise that financially burdened employees can have a negative impact on productivity in the workplace.  Capitalising on a period of wholesale change can make the most of employee buy-in when offering a financial wellness programme.  By providing workers with the skills necessary to manage their money, employers can support employees by helping to ease the financial burdens that are causing them to stress out; and at the same time trigger the knock-on effect of lowering absenteeism and improving productivity.