We spoke to Andre Cloete, Manager of Client Relations and Chairperson of EAPA-SA’s Egoli Chapter about his experience and learnings as an EAP service provider over the national coronavirus lockdown period.
Q: In your experience as an EAP service provider, has there been an upswing in the call and need for EAP support during the lockdown – and are organisations seeing EAPs in a new light?
There has been a demand on EAP services, but our actual call volume to the EAP national support centre has decreased. Our clients and their employees have been utilising our services to be supported through what they have to do. We especially like to support employees in organisations who are making a difference out there. It’s tough out there – in some instances our clients are finding themselves having to restructure their business, reduce their head count and reshape their world of work. Some are having to close business units because they are not financially viable, and so they have had to make the dreadful decision to enter change management processes.
“We especially like to support employees in organisations who are making a difference out there.”
When it comes to organisations seeing the benefit of EAP support, unfortunately a catastrophic crisis like the coronavirus pandemic best positions the value of EAP work and the benefits we offer, second to none. At LifeAssist, where I am the Manager of Client Relations, we have made sure we are able to clearly show clients the value-add that we bring to their organisations. For EAPs, this value positioning needs to be driven cleverly, in a very strategic way. However, not all the personnel that our clients appoint to manage their EAP are high-level strategic thinkers. Some of them are just interested in the “bells and whistles” aspects of EAP and this is not beneficial to the strategic positioning of much needed EAP services within their organisations.
“Unfortunately a catastrophic crisis like the coronavirus pandemic best positions the value of EAP work and the benefits we offer”
There have been some cases where EAPs have been able to get out of their comfort zone and take it up a notch. We have relationship managers helping clients with continuation strategies for employees who had never previously thought about it. I have had a senior client staffer email me to ask what they must do in terms of return-to-work planning. This is an established business asking me, an EAP, what they should be doing to make their business facilities safe for employees to return to work. They do have existing health and safety people, but they are not available since South African went into lockdown.
Q: Have you witnessed how organisations that are disaster-prepared and those who are not facing very different realities over the lockdown? What are the lessons to be learned?
I have seen horrific things out there over this lockdown period. There are some EAP and client organisations that have not done a lot of preparation for COVID-19. As an EAP service provider, two months before the lockdown started we, at LifeAssist, had already embraced what was heading our way. We saw the potential risks approaching and knew that if we did not position our benefits carefully with our clients we would not have a business in six months. In addition, we went all out and secured our essential services permit and were ready when President Ramaphosa announced the lockdown. Now, we are busy servicing our clients through video conferencing and video calling, and our various e-counselling services allow us to support onsite employee trauma. As a medium-size business we were flexible enough to be able to quickly redesign systems, acquire necessary technology and position ourselves strategically. We are making our best effort to meet with all of our clients, every week. We are out there marketing our services like never before. Our clients have become so familiar with our relationship managers that we get to talk about personal lives and family – because that is what this business is all about. It’s about knowing the person on the other side of the phone.
“We are busy servicing our clients through video conferencing and video calling, and our various e-counselling services allow us to support onsite employee trauma“.
On the client side – you can hear the despair in many of my client’s voices. They are deeply concerned. Some organisations did not foresee the upcoming risks and they are falling apart. They may have entered into some planning but when it comes to detailed pre-planning they failed to think things through. When 16th April came around, I think that many people thought that would be the green light to go back to work as normal. But, it wasn’t and so I think that for many people the reality of, “Oh shucks, we didn’t think enough about it” is bearing fruit for them. As for the organisations that had properly pre-planned, they had already factored the possibility of restructuring into their strategic plans.
We have found that many organisations by the actual day of lockdown, on 25th March, had not thought about ICT infrastructure plans – about procuring equipment to put remote working systems in place. People have not been practical about these things. I have heard of companies who have call centres needing their call centre operators to sleep at the office.
“One massive learning is the need for organisations to think about reshaping their employee communication mechanisms.”
One of my biggest findings has been that many organisations don’t have effective communication mechanisms in place to be able to communicate with their staff. They don’t have the systems in place to send widespread electronic messages; and they can’t speak to people in teams who are 4, 5 or 6 levels down in their organisation. The upshot is that now they can’t interact or get feedback. I have asked some of my clients, “What is your plan? Have you made any strategic decisions about communicating with employees about their return to work?” I’ve discovered that many of them have previously relied on their line managers or wellness champions to communicate down the line. Certain clients have the majority of their employees in a production department or on the factory floor; workers who are currently sitting at home and out of their reach. So, my one massive learning is the need for organisations to think about reshaping their employee communication mechanisms.
Chapter Chairperson: Egoli (Johannesburg)
André Cloete is a qualified Social Worker in the Employee Assistance Programme Industry in South Africa, holding a Masters Degree in Social Work (Employee Assistance Programme – University of Pretoria). He is currently fulfilling the Chairperson portfolio within the Egoli Chapter of EAPA-SA.
He is currently employed as Manager for Client Relations in an Employee Wellbeing Programme Service Provider function at LifeAssist in Johannesburg, Gauteng.
As a Social Worker, André has worked in various organisations ranging from a Mental Health non-governmental organisation, coordinating support groups for professional support, Employee Assistance Programme therapist and trainer, account manager for various service provider organisations, coach for executives and managers, managing and coordination onsite HCT and Health Risk Assessment projects and now managing client relations within an Employee Wellbeing Programme service provider environment.
As an active and involved father, André enjoys spending time with his family and two sons. He also enjoys doing wood turning in his free time and actively living a faith-based life.