Mental Health at Work Training and Employee Assistant Programs (EAPs)
Workplace Mental Health
Wellbeing is a discretionary line item on budgets across the Australian
business landscape with varying levels of investment. The quality of
programs is equally variable – there’s everything from the tokenistic
(hello, weekly fruit box delivery) through to face-to-face training with a cultural
focus on workplace mental health. Unfortunately, some organisations still feel
the need to tick the box while others can see the benefits of strong workplace
mental health and have experienced the benefits of a motivated workforce and
all that comes with that.
Many organisations irrespective of their overall approach do see the benefit of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and have them in place as part of their approach to workplace mental health. EAPs can certainly provide a basic first step support in helping employees deal with a range of issues including their mental health.
There are many benefits to having good EAP services for both the employee as well as the organisation.
Organisations can benefit from improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced turnover. Employees benefit on a personal level as they are supported in dealing with a whole range of issues. Used properly and in a timely manner, EAP’s do help with getting things started and ensuring that small problems do not grow into larger ones. Like a common refrain in netball EAPs are there ‘if you need’ but they sit on the sidelines of work life much like the first aid kit on the kitchen bench. Despite the intention behind the programs they’re sometimes seen as a reactionary option rather than as a holistic, embedded part of the fabric of a mentally healthy workplace.
From a workplace mental health perspective, EAP’s can support employees with access to counselling services to help them manage stress, anxiety, depression and other issues in a confidential environment.
Mental Health at Work Training
EAPs are confidential counselling services made available to employees to work through work or personal issues with a mental health practitioner such as counsellor, clinical social worker or psychologist. They’re often outsourced where the organisation becomes a ‘client’ of the service
provider. This has its strengths in terms of confidentiality and objectivity but equally this distance makes it difficult to co-create a culture of care when it is so distinctly hands-off. The program is limited in delivery as sessions aren’t ongoing. Once employees reach their four or six session limit,
their ‘care’ then enters a referral system. Thus, EAP is focused on a solutions-based approach to tackle a pressing need, rather than an all-encompassing effort to co-create a mentally healthy workplace through mental health at work training. One of the major issues with EAPs is that they are generally not well promoted, or usage encouraged by leadership. It is very common for many in the organisation to not really understand or appreciate their respective EAP services.
Ironically though, management often see them as a cost effective alternative to mental health at work training.
Our research shows that only 5% of employees generally use their EAP service. 27% have privacy concerns and don’t really trust their issue will remain confidential. 39% have had a bad experience either with poor counselling or follow-up. And EAP is often used in a distressed situation where the advice is not effective enough because a relatively small issue has developed into a more of a distressed situation requiring management intervention and one on one support or certainly more than a stranger on the phone.
We’ve received anecdotal feedback over the years that indicates people can see the EAP as a tokenistic handball of their (valid) mental health concerns. They’ve had the courage to be vulnerable in the workplace though either directly sharing with a colleague or manager that they’re having a mental health issue or their behaviour has indicated such, leading their colleague/manager to ask of their wellbeing. A reminder of access to the EAP without any other cultural scaffolding, sometimes without even a follow up conversation to see if the program has actually been accessed can feel quite one-dimensional at best. We’ve heard reports that people have actually had managers tell them to access the EAP, but to not tell anyone as it could be detrimental to their career progression!
This isn’t meant as criticism of managers and colleagues who are, at the core, doing the right thing by suggesting a colleague seek professional help. However, if that suggestion is offered within an environment of punishment, judgement (overt or otherwise) or stigma then the culture is limited in its ability to promote a mentally healthy workplace.
We believe that EAP can be enhanced with the right mental health at work training support.
WeCARE365 is a blended learning mental health at work training platform that helps people identify and recognise a colleague with a mental health struggle and guide them to seek out appropriate support, sometimes including the organisation’s EAP, as our program is customised.
Learn how we can complement your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
The toolkit in which they build these skills concurrently builds a culture of care, one of the cornerstones of a mentally healthy workplace. EAP is a reactionary, solutions-based approach to supporting an employee which for a number of reasons may be under-utilised in workplaces. When, however, mental health dialogue is openly supported and encouraged, the EAP program becomes embedded and integrated within a culture of care.
So what does it mean when WeCARE365 teams up with EAP? It means a culture where awareness and focus on mental health remains dominant, where usage of EAP increases as people see the value it brings in both preventing small problems becoming big ones as well as reacting to a specific need. The benefits that come with the EAP are turbocharged and the investment in the program is maximised. Ultimately it means a mentally healthy workplace with care at the heart.
For more information about WeCARE365 please complete our contact form and a member of the
team will be in touch.