When considering the changes required by Employee Assistance Programmes to meet the demands of a new generation of employees, it is positive to note that EAPs in South Africa are already relatively advanced, particularly having leapfrogged the development of their longer-established counterparts in The United States:
Because of the recent introduction of EAPs into South African work organisations they have essentially skipped a generation of development. This has both positive and negative implications. First they have forgone the earlier controversies experienced by the field as it evolved from occupational alcoholism programmes to employee assistance programmes. For South African practitioners this has been positive in that it has enabled them to develop programmes more rapidly. They have become conceptually more sophisticated in a much shorter period of time as they are a more professionally homogenous group.1
Firstly, South Africa’s workforce is a generational melting pot
This relative sophistication and the agility inherent in South African EAPs are both valuable traits, because converging trends have created a complex five-generation workforce in South Africa – if you consider that Generation Z (the next generation after millennials also known as Generation Y) is poised to enter the workforce in ever increasing numbers. These trends are:
- People are living longer;
- Older generations are not necessarily in a financial position to retire;
- Older generations want to work until an older age; and
Older generations are financially supporting their “adult” millennial children.
For the first time, in one workplace there are: Traditionalists who may have climbed the corporate ladder in the same organisation for their entire career; Baby Boomers for whom the term “Workaholics” was coined; Generation X, known for being independent and sceptical; Generation Y who are hungry for new experience and thrive on teamwork and need regular feedback; and Generation Z, the true digital natives.3
Integrating the different generations in the workplace should be a priority task for Human Resources. Managers are very likely going to have to deal with sensitivity training and group dynamics as a result of generational differences in the workplace, and employee assistance programmes can help to effectively integrate this complex workforce.
In addition, EAPs are going to have to adapt service offerings and programme delivery to accommodate the characteristics of all five different generations and to address the needs of a workforce ranging in age from 17 to 70.
Providing customisable resources
For example, ways to counsel EAPs have, to-date, offered counselling models that use short-term telephonic assistance or face-to-face sessions to address employees’ behavioural needs. However in future, due to complex multi-generational workforces along with changes in technology and shifting delivery preferences, an informed EAP will be required to provide service solutions that address individual requirements. A switched-on EAP will be expected offer customisable, confidential resources that best meet an individual customer’s needs.
Addressing work-life balance
For younger workers, multifaceted programs that appeal to a variety of needs are set to become the norm. Included in modern, stand-alone EAPs are a wide range of service areas that are more attractive to incoming workers than what have previously been offered. Today’s employees are open about asking for assistance and more young employees are looking to their employers to help in balancing their jobs with their personal lives. In turn, employers are looking to EAP professionals to provide products and programmes that meet these needs. As Millennials and Generation Z will continue to struggle with student loans, health care access and civil liberties, recognizing emerging work-life trends such as the need for child and eldercare services or aid with housing searches can give EAP service providers the advantage.
Coaching and counselling for both physical and mental health
The younger workforce tends to be on the go. EAPs with an active finger on the pulse may offer services such as wellness coaching, on-site health screenings and online health guides that help employees live a more active and health-conscious lifestyle. And, this would be even better received if delivered through a mobile app.
Millennials and Generation Y are, on the whole, more likely to pursue counselling for mental health issues, workplace stress or relationship challenges. This will lead to an increased use of EAP-provided counselling. While stigma surrounding mental health or gender issues continues to subside, shifts away from face-to-face counselling emphasize a need to ensure EAP providers offer easily obtainable information resources online for millennials, while it is noted that in the main Generation Z tends to prefer face-to-face interaction.
Training financial skills
University and college graduates continue entering the workforce with increasing amounts of debt, but at the same time lack the same amount of financial education as the generations who came before them. EAPs that provide financial planning and consulting services are vital to fostering a financially savvy and well-informed workforce for all stages of life. Current trends show EAPs offering financial services such as budget management, student loan coaching, credit report review and tax-related education—all vital services for a generation that could use a little extra help navigating the world of loan repayments and investment vehicles.
1 First World EAPs serving third world clients: A US perspective of the South African experience. R. Paul Maiden 2002 (p4-5)
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