The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) can be defined as “The current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are changing the way we live and work. Faced with the speed and scale of shifting workforce demands brought by 4IR, it is crucial that employers support their employees in addressing the challenges associated with rapid and inevitable change and its impact on their employees in the workplace. 1
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are work-based programmes provided by employees with the purpose of identifying and assisting employees who are troubled or facing challenges – either at work or in their personal lives. In the first instance EAPs provide access to counselling for employees who would benefit from this support, and by referring employees on to specialist support if needed. However, over the years “EAPs have evolved in response to ever changing influences within and outside of the workplace. Today, EAPs incorporate a diverse set of service groups each with its own structures”. In light of this evolution, “the issue of a lack of technological innovation by EAP industry players, both service providers and employers, is sighted as a big industry shortcoming, considering that we are already well into the Digital Age”. (Dr Fundile Nyati – Specialist Family Physician, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban)
Technology is a tool, not an end in itself
It is well understood that employing technology is essential to the evolution of EAP service offerings – to keep the industry in step with the communication style of modern employees as well as with rapid technological changes taking place in the workplace. However, it may be useful for the EAP industry to remember that technology is a tool, not a goal in its own right. Rather than fixating on the type of technology that should be employed, technology should be used mindfully as a tool to reach particular goals in continuing to add value to a profession that is currently losing traction to nebulous EAP and Wellness programming, which lacks meaningful employer presence. 2
While creativity and the use of technology have been essential to the evolution and expansion of employee assistance programming, it is essential that EAPs continue to emphasise retaining the essential components of the EA profession. This balance remains entirely feasible while expanding EAPs’ sphere of influence within client’s organisations through maximizing the technological resources now available.3
Technology in EAP – one size does not fit all in a diverse workforce
In order to serve a workforce that is more diverse and varied in age than ever before, it is essential to offer EAP services and delivery mechanisms that take into account each organisation’s particular social and technological environment. This is particularly true when considering continually modernising an EAP service offering that supports a burgeoning younger workforce – while remembering that an important goal of employing technology in EAP must include shaping the delivery of EAP practices to be of service to a full spectrum of clients. Examples of this include:
- EAP services that are delivered through several means – both digital and non-digital, including face-to-face, email, texts, telephone calls or Skype video calls.
- Variable sessions – rather than long sessions being the only option. Clinicians should gear to be able to engage in more frequent contacts with their clients if need be – in shorter bursts and at all hours of the day to serve an “always on” workforce. For instance rather than one 50-minute, face-to-face session a counsellor may find it more beneficial to engage in 20 texts per week with a client.
- EAP promotions and communications that are designed to meet people where they are, through a combination of traditional, online and mobile means which include social media, electronic delivery of information, or short messages.
Technology can be used to augment EAP services, rather than dilute them
Technological innovation in EAP programmes can be a driving force in providing ongoing support as well as reinforcing behavioural change through tailored, needs-based employee wellness education.
For example, one powerful such innovation is adaptive learning – an online educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customised resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner. 4
A well devised adaptive learning programme will effectively integrate with a company’s existing health, safety and wellness programmes to augment traditional EAP and wellness programmes in the work-life sphere. Topics can range from offering guidance to employees on relatively simple issues, like how to improve time management skills, to more complex issues, like how to build emotional resilience. Adaptive learning is a significant tool when used to increase overall employee participation and engagement by younger employees who welcome ongoing personal development.
Adaptive learning training topics can range from growing leadership ability in management, to work skills trainings and guidance in emotional wellbeing, healthy living, financial wellness and family issues. For example:
- Career Development –
- Improve your listening skills
- Learn to build rapport
- Learn to delegate
- Build emotional resilience
- Build relationships at work
- Learn to handle the stress of time pressure
- Self-care –
- Self-Care for depression
- Self-Care for anxiety
- Easy to use personal goal setting systems – with calendar reminders
- Easy to use personal budgeting tools
- A guide to A guide to Facts about sexual harassment
- Steps to creating a new habit
- Steps to good Nutrition – with a database of nutritional information and calorie counter
- Steps to regular Exercise – with a health risk appraisal with BMI calculator
No employee assistance strategy in the 21st century should be implemented without using, adapting, and applying up-to-date technological resources. It holds true that EAPs can retain the essence of core EAP services while at the same time using technology to evolve and expand the boundaries of a successful EAP.
“Perhaps the greatest technological change comes from our ability, as EA providers, to assess, target psycho-educational messages, improve interventions, and demonstrate value to organizations. More than ever before, we have the ability to employ electronic surveys and use data to adapt interventions, making programs easier to access, more efficient, and more impactful. Technology is proving that our expanded vision of wellness is effective, and it will make our future programmes even better.”