Employee assistance programs (EAPs) started in the USA in the 1940s to provide a service that was primarily focused on mitigating the negative effect of alcohol use and abuse on job performance.
Since then EAPs have become much broader-focused and cover a far wider array of personal issues that negatively affect job performance. Today, EAPs assist employers in addressing a growing list of employee concerns as the rate of change escalates in the workplace, and jobs become more subject to IT skills. EAPs now proactively deal with workplace problems that could lead to both mental and physical health issues, as well as mitigating the effects of adverse work-related issues that may lead to a decline in morale and engagement among workers.
Generally speaking, Employee Assistance Programs provide value in these ways: 1
- EAPs address the cost of doing business through:
- reducing workplace absenteeism;
- facilitating the timely and effective return for employees after short-term or extended absences from work;
- lowering employee turnover and related replacement costs.
- Reduce healthcare costs by:
- maximising the value of an organisation’s investment in health and wellness programmes and self-care management;
- increasing the efficient use of health care through early identification, ongoing management and health recovery efforts among employees.
- decreasing workplace accidents;
- EAPs decrease business risks by:
- addressing inappropriate or dangerous behaviours;
- promoting and supporting drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies and programmes;
- supporting the implementation of disaster and emergency preparedness;
- reducing the likelihood of workplace violence or safety risks;
- managing the after-effects of disruptive incidents which include workplace violence, injury or other crises;
- facilitating a swift return-to-work by employees after such adverse workplace events
- reducing the likelihood of legal action or liability through maintaining business practices that promote a safe and violence-free workplace.
- EAPs leverage the value of the organisation’s investment in its workforce through:
- improving the ability of employees to successfully respond to life’s challenges;
- offering employees immediate problem-resolution services or referring employees on to mental health treatment services when necessary;
- encouraging employee engagement;
- assisting in developing employee and manager competencies in managing workplace stress and improving team or departmental performance;
- training mangers to deal with complex emotional, cultural and diversity issues;
- facilitating the adjustment to mergers, acquisitions, site closures or other workforce changes.
What factors better ensure the success of EAP services? 2
From the employee perspective:
- Strict confidentiality.
- Appropriate programmes being open to employees and their immediate families.
- It is crucial that the EAP offers easy accessibility for employees and 24-hour availability in case of emergencies.
- The appropriate employee assessment and follow-up of progress made.
From the employer perspective:
- Recognition (and continued support by management, employees and union, if applicable) that an EAP is needed.
- Policies and procedures that are supported by top management, employees and the union.
- Managers and employees who are educated in the workings of the EAP.
- Promotion of the EAP and encouragement for employees to use the service.
- Establishment of both formal and informal referral procedures.
- Periodic evaluation of the EAP to be sure the needs of both the employee and the employer are being met.
- In addition, the EAP must be monitored and evaluated to ensure the continued quality of their referrals.
In-house versus outsourced EAP? 3
There are two types of EAPs:
- Internal EAPs – staffed and run by specialist company employees.
A benefit here is that internal EAPs are particularly successful as they understand the organisational culture and so design programs that fit the unique needs or requirements of their organisation.
- External EAPs – delivered by a contractor or vendor.
It is interesting to note that some employees feel greater comfort seeking such personal services away from the worksite. External EAPs are typically preferred when an organisation is motivated by factors such as cost and efficiency.
However, there is a third option open to employers – the internal-external or “hybrid” EAP. Hybrid EAPs blend the benefits of both internal and external programs. This provides the benefits of a clinical service both on and offsite as well as rapid response, increased supervisory referrals and 24/7 global coverage in the case of the branch office of an international organisation.
Due to rapid shifts in market forces that have had an impact on the evolving needs of today’s workforce, EAPs are now at a critical juncture in South Africa. As the workplace changes and employee needs evolve, it is worth considering collaborative effort when addressing certain of the roles and responsibilities held between EAP and an organisation’s broader human resource function – there are many aspects that cross boundaries or go hand-in-hand. Collaboration between EAP and HR (as well as Occupational Health & Safety officers) would serve to enhance the value of existing programmes and would better ensure high-quality and relevant services.
Ultimately, it is down to customising an EAP service that has the right elements to be most effective at optimising your talent.