From their inception Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) have primarily served as a workplace-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal and workplace problems. However, from this beginning EAPs have evolved, and are still evolving, into encompassing a diverse group of services in response to changes and influences from inside and outside of the workplace.
Many employers today seek to actively integrate employee services and resources to support overall employee physical and mental health, requiring an expanded set of EAP services that include preventative health and wellness management, and coordinating a wide range of other health and wellness and human resource initiatives.1
Meeting the needs of multiple generations in the workplace
As people live and work for longer than ever before a typical large organisation is likely to have at least four distinct generations in their employ. The expectations of each employee- generation are unique because they grew up in different environments and contexts, and work ethic varies tremendously from generation to generation.
These generations are categorised as:
Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964
Generation X: 1965 – 1979
Xials (subgroup): 1975 – 1989
Millennials: 1980 – 1994
Generation Z: 1995 – 2012
The changing makeup of the multigenerational workforce means that EAPs have to reconsider what range of services they offer and the method by which their employee assistance will be delivered. Research reveals that almost half of the workforce will be made up of Millennials by 2020.
Rather than being stuck in a one-size-fits- all approach, and by strengthening partnerships with human resources, EAP professionals should be developing new strategies and resources with a view to providing work-life programmes that are effective in assisting younger generations in becoming productive workers in the 21st Century workplace. For younger generations there is less stigma attached to seeking work-based help for personal or work problems. The idea is to encourage younger workers to seek assistance for a wide range of issues, which include mental health and addiction problems. 2
The use of technology in EAP communication
Advances in technology have given rise to today’s “always on” workforce. Following suit, today’s EAP practitioners are expected to provide on-demand support, making convenient ‘24/7’ programmes accessible to all employees no matter where, when or how they work. Technology has allowed the advent of multi-channel support through Skype or video calls, mobile telephone conversations, chat and text services as well as resource-rich websites and mobile apps. 3
Recently, electronics company Plantronics took a look at the work styles of Millennials as part of a new in-depth global study of approximately 4000 workers. The study revealed some distinct patterns about the way this group works and communicates as follows:
- Around the world, Millennials are increasingly using communication methods for work like video calls, instant messaging, and texting.
- Millennials tend to shun desk phones in favour of relying on smartphones or their PC for calls.
- They report performing work-related tasks while commuting or travelling more than peers from other generations.
- While nearly 40% of Millennials identify as office-based, more than 60% report working more flexibly.4
Younger workers are likely to have researched their issues before they contact an EAP and may even have discussed their issue in the public domain on social media. Modern EAPs regularly offer online self-assessment tools that offer free and anonymous mental health screening for issues such as depression, alcohol and substance abuse and various mental health issues. Beyond online self-assessment, ICT allows for the compilation of a personal plan programme, or a coached programme, designed to educate users on a topic or problem area and to provide tools through which users can improve their situation. Such a programme may include information, skill training, demonstrations, online exercises and an overall plan to overcome a problem or develop a skill.
Multi-channel communication notwithstanding, EAP’s bottom line remains the meeting of each client’s needs in a clinically sound way. With information and communications technology (ICT) as a powerful tool in the EA professionals’ arsenal, it is essential that EAPs continue to direct each employee in trouble to a person-to-person encounter.
Crisis readiness is the new normal in a volatile world
In today’s volatile world, more than ever, EAP professionals need to be prepared to respond to a range of critical incidents ranging from natural disasters to violence in the workplace, and to being called upon to assist in identifying, monitoring and mitigating existing or unforeseen risks.
Today’s management is well aware that their organisations may have to mitigate the effects of unforeseen disaster, either natural or man-made, as a result of an event that they could not control. In fact, it seems that managing crisis is becoming a new normal for businesses.
To effectively deal with a crisis, companies should be able to react correctly when such situations arise. It is necessary to have a plan and a crisis toolkit in place, and to ensure that any practical weaknesses are dealt with before disaster strikes. Being prepared for a crisis also entails building employee capacity to tackle serious disasters through equipping them with know-how and the capability to make important decisions, under stress, that will safely steer themselves, or the organisation, through the storm. 5
No-one is immune from the effects of disastrous events. In addition to being immediately available with emergency resources, EAPs must be able to provide stress management services to employers and workers following a traumatic event; even supporting far-flung employees in other regional and global locations, as well as virtual employees and employees that work non-traditional hours.
Ultimately the organisation has to prevail and the employees overcome their ordeal. it is documented in case studies that as a result of a well-planned-for disaster that employees and organisations have been known t o come through a disaster stronger than they were before.
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