AN EXCERPT FROM THE ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE LEADERSHIP MAGAZINE
According to Mr Joe Makasane, Board Member of EAPA-SA in the Education Portfolio, Since the inception of Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in South Africa during the 1980s the concept has changed dramatically over the years. It first started with addressing issues related to the misuse of alcohol and fatigue due to the unacceptably long working hours, especially in the mining sector. This resulted in people using the programme being stigmatised, and as result employees were reluctant to access EAPs. This trend has been witnessed around the world over the years. The use of EAPs was a more reactive approach as it dealt with effects of alcohol abuse.
The evolution of EAPs and Wellness Programmes being used interchangeably in the workplace has seemed to yield positive results during the late 1990s to date. This approach has been beneficial to organisations since challenged employees have come forward in numbers without the fear of being stigmatised or judged by peers. The integration of EAPs and Wellness Programmes in organisations now focus on a wider span than the then traditional EAP that used to be narrowed down to alcohol abuse. The latest trend in EAPs and Wellness programmes has expanded the focus to driving employees on:
- Helping employee to identify potential health risks by undergoing screening and testing;
- Educating employees on health risks such as high blood pressure, smoking, diets and stress;
- Encouraging lifestyle change through exercise, good nutrition and health assessment.
EAP’s, together with the wellness component , have a successful performance history in revealing health and wellness issues, that effectively highlight behavioural risks within organisations, thereby assisting organisations to proactively address these needs and ensure productive employees. Organisations are now deriving value from establishing EAP and Wellness programmes on site or outsourced.
What are the latest trends in international EAP, and how is technology impacting EAP particularly in the light of the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Organisations face a radically shifting context for the workplace, the workforce and the world of work; and there is an amalgamation of various global forces that have been changing the relationship between work and employee wellness. Some trends in the global workplace are positive, such as an increasing number of women in the workplace, rising levels of education and greater access to information, and growing worker empowerment. But at the same time some trends point toward an ever-increasing level of economic insecurity and stress, set against a backdrop of rising healthcare costs.
Companies are focusing more on improving their candidate and employee work experiences
Companies have always created positive marketing experiences for prospects and clients in order to increase loyalty and grow their revenue. More and more you will see the divide between Human Resources, Marketing and Customer Service departments disappear in order to develop beneficial work experiences for employees.
Workplace wellness, and wellbeing, has become a critical employee benefit for attracting top talent.
Companies are using wellness programs to attract talent in addition to lowering absenteeism, and save on healthcare costs, capitalising on the fact that employees have become more health conscious in the past several years… Companies realise that workplace stress is the biggest health issue that employees face so they are investing in creating a more relaxing and healthier environment for them.1
The implementation of Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS)
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the United States recognised the impact of employees’ drug and alcohol misuse on workplace safety and personal health. Evidence is now showing that insufficient sleep also causes a negative impact on work performance in a similar way to substance misuse. In the past few years, some industries have begun to develop policies and procedures to reduce the potential health and safety consequences associated with fatigue. While initial efforts to manage worker fatigue focused primarily on limiting the maximum number of hours worked per day/week or rotating shifts to allow for sufficient rest opportunities, these efforts have fallen short because they fail to address the behavioural, lifestyle, and medical conditions that commonly contribute to fatigue. A number of different factors can contribute to employee fatigue ranging from roster and work schedules, environmental and medical conditions, to behavioural or lifestyle habits which include stress and work life balance. In the last 3-4 years, the concept of an integrated Fatigue Risk Management System(FRMS) has begun to establish itself as the gold standard for reducing organisational risk caused though worker fatigue.
EAP and Employee Wellness programmes for younger employees
As Millennial generation adults have entered the workplace, they have brought with them an array of personal concerns particular to their generation, in addition to some of the same issues that EAP practitioners have been addressing for many years. Employers are increasingly recognising an opportunity to reach young employees with EAP services—particularly with regard to mental health. Compared to older workers, younger employees seem to worry less about stigma when asking for help on mental health and substance use issues, appearing to approach EAPs much as they would other resources they need to achieve success in their jobs or resolve relationship issues. To attract and retain Millennials, and to better serve their mental health needs, many employers and employee assistance professionals are beginning to develop innovative and content-rich EAP messages for young employees in multiple traditional and new media formats.
Strategies for ensuring that EAPs are reaching younger workers include the following:
- Increased use of technology: Younger workers are generally very comfortable with (and often inseparable from) technology. Efforts to make EAP services more accessible include online, interactive assessments of drug and alcohol use, stress levels, and depression; online, 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; webinars and podcasts on various subjects; text messaging to facilitate communication among subscribed members; and e-mails providing non-clinical support, such as coaching.
- New promotional materials: EAPs are redesigning their Web sites, posters, brochures, wallet cards, and other printed material to be more appealing to younger workers. They are using streamlined fonts, brighter colours, more modern design, and more contemporary messages.
- New topics for seminars: EAPs are finding that certain topics for brown bag lunches and other presentations tend to attract younger workers and they are updating their seminars to be more appealing to Millennials. Topics on time management, financial issues, and stress are reported as popular with younger workers.
- Work/life coordination: EAPs are increasingly involved in administering and promoting work/ life programs, such as telework and flexible schedules. When EAP, human resources, and work/life services are effectively integrated, a single assessment may help a person find both financial counselling services and help dealing with depression. The idea is to encourage young workers to seek assistance for a wide range of issues, including mental health and addiction problems.
- Supervisor training: An orientation for supervisors is a standard practice for EAPs. In addition to the usual discussion familiarizing supervisors and managers with the range of services EAPs offer, some are now offering specific training on “Managing Employees from Different Generations” which are proving popular and particularly helpful.
- Mediation services: Some EAPs find that offering mediation and conflict resolution services gives them a good entrée with younger workers who may be having difficulty adjusting to the expectations of their managers or co-workers.
- Retention strategies: Some EAPs are coordinating with human resource efforts to retain younger workers. The visibility of EAPs in strategic workforce planning can positively contribute to employee perceptions of EAPs as “go to” resources for advice about workplace and personal issues. For example, some employers have worked with their EAPs to design programs for employees with zero to five years of service that offer a variety of professional and personal development activities to create friendships and supports for new employees.2
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Contributor: Joe Makasane
Joe Makasane works for the Free State Department of Local Government and Housing (now the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs-CoGTA). His experience in the Human Resources field dates back to 1997. He worked in Special Programmes, EAP/Wellness, OHS, HIV and AIDS and Labour Relations both as a Practitioner and Trainer and is currently working as a Deputy Director: Employee Health and Wellness within the same department.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Leadership (BML) from the University of the Free State.
As a Wellness Practitioner, he has been involved in the EAP field for the past 13 years and been a member of the Employee Assistance Professional Association of South Africa (EAPA-SA). He served as the Free State Chapter Chairperson during 2009-2011, Conferencing Portfolio during 2011-2013 and currently holds the Education portfolio for the period 2013-2018.