Feedback from the EAPA International Conference 2018 | EAPA-SA

The EAPA 2018 International Conference & Expo took place in Minneapolis from 11th to 13th October this year, hosting approximately 750 delegates, mostly from American states, but with a significant number from North America, United Kingdom, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Board members Thiloshni Govender (EAPA-SA President) and Radhi Vandayar (Marketing) attended the conference at which EAPA South Africa was honoured to receive the Outstanding Branch of the Year award.

We spoke to Thiloshni and Radhi to learn more about their insights and the benefits they derived from attending the EAPA international conference.


Q: What was the most important benefit you derived from attending the EAPA conference?

The best part of the conference for me was the networking. There were many opportunities to mix with EAPs from other countries, including special sessions, breaks and meal times. I met and talked with EA Professionals from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany; and several American states. We talked about EAP elements, common workforce issues, accreditation and certification, EAP enablers and partners.

In addition there was a special networking session for those involved in the Health Care Industry.  As Director: Employee Wellness for the Department of Health (Eastern Cape) it was helpful to see that across the world we have the same issues around compassion fatigue, burnout and chronic trauma that plague our employees.

Q: Is the scope of the topics delivered at the international conference similar to topics delivered at EAPA-SA Eduweek?  Did you see common themes, trends and innovations discussed?

The topics were very much along the same lines as the EAPA-SA Eduweek which is not surprising as across the world workplaces are dealing with the same issues.  The presentation I found most exiting was the presentation on Artificial Intelligence where TESS was introduced by Michiel Rauws, CEO of X2AI.  TESS is a mental health chatbot that delivers on-demand, evidence-based support to over 4 million employees through text message conversations to coach people through tough times. A randomised controlled trial has shown that TESS has reduced symptoms of depressions by 13 percent and anxiety by 18 percent.

Q: What did the presentations you attended reveal to you about how the South African need for EAP is unique?

Whilst we have the same issues as most other countries I did not see much on:

  1. HIV, AIDS, TB and the lifestyle diseases that have become a serious burden for South African workplaces. Our EAPs mostly include special programmes focusing on these because of the significant impact we feel in our organisations. South Africa sits high in the ranks with regard to these issues as compared to most first world countries.
  2. South African Employee Assistance / Wellness Programmes also include Occupational Health and Safety as an integral element of our programmes. EAPA-SA has broadened its Core Technology to be transversal to multiple disciplines and to cover Psychosocial Support, Occupational Health and Safety, as well as HIV/AIDS/TB workplace programmes along with Disease and Incapacity Management, Sport and Recreation and Spiritual Care programmes.

 Q: What stood out for you?       

  1. TESS stood out for me. In South Africa we have been looking, for some time now, at various social media and digital platforms to deliver services to organisations and employees … affordable, accessible, safe and professional services. The measured response from TESS shows us it’s possible – we just have to overcome our fears and embrace technology.
  2. There is unity in diversity. We were diverse backgrounds and cultures, yet we had the same issues.

Q: What was your main take out from the conference?

I felt proudly South African – especially in receiving the Outstanding Branch of the Year award – because our EAPs are of a world class standard – and in the congratulations we received for our successful Eduweek and the EAPA-SA app.  Many of the EAPA Board members downloaded the app and complimented us about it.


Q:  What were the main benefits you derived from attending the EAPA conference?

For me, the benefit of attending the various presentations was found in terms of checking ourselves against what is considered best practice, and learning different ways of doing things. However, the networking was the most valuable aspect of attending the conference.

Networking allowed me to have critical conversations the impact of which will last far longer than the conference period.  As an EAPA-SA board member it was interesting to meet the people we use as references when talking EAP -as all our research and reference books come from the USA.  It was also very helpful to check and understand where South Africa stands in terms of clinical standards, technology and EAP market needs versus the international space.

Q:  How did you find the quality of the presentation content?

The presentations were good. I especially enjoyed the presentation on Sexual Harassment by EAPA board member, Bernie McCann, and “Computer Addictions” by EAPA President, Libby Timmons – both independent EAP professionals. I really enjoyed Dirk Antonissen’s (from Pulso Europe, Belgium) stance on looking at culture and organisational issues from a broader perspective and not just from a ROI, utilisation or case basis. I work more with groups and culture issues and showing return on value at an organisational level needs to be explored too.

Q: How did the conference illustrate the differences in the EAP industry in South Africa compared to the rest of the world – to EAP in both first and third world countries?

I am proud to say that EAP in South Africa is world class. We tend to underestimate the progress we have made. Perhaps it has been the mindset that ‘we have to catch up’ that has propelled us even beyond the people we were trying to emulate – with the result that EAPA-SA won the Outstanding Chapter of the Year award.  We have revised our standards four times already to meet market needs. We elected not to accept the CEAP (US accreditation) as it meant nothing to our local EAP’s, but we strove to get South African accreditation through SAQA. The publishing of our own history of EAP in South Africa is a landmark moment. No other branch has done this internationally. Our profession has much to be proud of. As a South African EAP provider I am now asked by international EAP offices to assist with digital learning to support their EAP programmes. This shows they are taking S.A. providers more seriously. I see loads of common issues and ways of working in Africa, Argentina and Mexico. We are looking at similar ways of meeting EAP needs – so we can learn from each other.

Q:  What stood out for you?  

How similar we all are and how passionate everyone is.  People don’t see EAP just as a job. This profession is a real calling. Also, the aging EAP workforce in the United States stood out for me. While it’s good to have such wisdom in our ranks we need to be looking for younger EAP’s in the States. At the same time, in South Africa, we have younger professionals and what we need to do is focus on keeping them in our profession – groom them, mentor them and have better succession plans in our work environments.

Q: What was your main take out from the conference?

I took with me the knowledge that we, the EAP industry in South Africa, embody excellence and are on the right path. This should not make us arrogant, but rather result in us learning and sharing all the more so the global industry can grow together. I look forward to the next leg of our journey.