Stress is on the rise in the South African workplace, with a significant catalyst being the escalating rate of change brought about by The Fourth Industrial Revolution. For several reasons stressed employees may not be eager to openly reach out for help within the organisation for whom they work. One significant reason is fear that their job will be compromised. There are a number of workplace stressors that can create issues, such as conflict between colleagues, having to weather a heavy workload, needing to get on top of new technology or concern about job security – not to mention a variety of possible personal problems. Business leaders can strive to manage potentially negative factors in the workplace, such as work-life balance or a concern about job security, but it is not always apparent what is happening in an employee’s personal life even though the ill-effects may be showing in their job performance. 1
“This has been found to be a most effective tool in providing a powerful intervention and can lead to significant results for employees and their families.”
The role of EAP-based workplace counselling
Counselling is at the heart of employee assistance programmes; where an employee can contact an organisation’s EAP practitioner and speak to a counsellor on a confidential basis. EAP-based workplace counselling is short-term, solution-focused counselling offered to the employees of an organisation, often through an employee assistance programme (EAP), in order to provide employees with a safe place to discuss any work-related or personal issues that they are struggling with. It aims to identify and work towards a solution that is specific to an employee and their particular set of circumstances. What differentiates this type of counselling from long-term counselling is that its focus is not so much on the cause, and negative influences, as it is on seeking to find a positive outcome to a issue, and then to build a plan to reach a desired goal. This has been found to be a most effective tool in providing a powerful intervention and can lead to significant results for employees and their families. 2
Traditionally, employees have had access to an EAP counselling service through a referral system that links employees with a network of therapists, allowing for face-to-face counselling sessions – and EAP practitioners are available for telephone counselling. However, interest in technology and its use to access mental health and educational services, is growing. More and more, employees are turning to their laptops, tablets, and smartphones to access information and assistance about their health concerns. The benefits of visiting a website, using an app, or accessing online health services such as e-counselling are numerous. They include around-the-clock accessibility, anonymity, easy navigation of services and the ability to overcome physical barriers to traditional in-person treatment. There is a caveat: both the counsellor and client must be adequately computer literate and able to effectively harness the power of digital hardware and software for the Internet environment to be a viable interactive channel.
Online counselling: growing EAP counsellors’ reach
One area of technology that seems to be receiving a fair amount of attention is online counselling . Online counselling (a.k.a e-counselling, cybertherapy or telecounseling) specifically refers to counselling that occurs across a distance instead of in a face-to-face setting. Online counselling over the Internet may be a particularly useful tool for clients with a physical disability, who find travelling difficult even over a short distance, or employees located in another region or country. For employees who are hesitant about meeting with a counsellor, or who have difficulty with self-disclosing, a disembodied ‘Internet connection’ may foster the counselling process. In addition, client and counsellor may now exchange text messages, voice notes and emails throughout the counselling process – an excellent two-way channel for staying in touch, answering simple questions, or scheduling virtual meeting times.
“One area of technology that seems to be receiving a fair amount of attention is online counselling.”
In terms of potential pitfalls: counsellors who counsel online must ethically and legally protect their clients, their profession, and themselves by using all known and reasonable cybersecurity measures. What’s more, as online counselling can occur at anytime and anywhere, evening state cross borders, it may serve to induce the employee assistance industry to formulate international counselling licensure or certification. While this would be a massive undertaking, it would facilitate uniform standards of training and practice while advancing reciprocity among states. 3