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Supporting your employees’ mental wellbeing has never been more critical.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) might be the key offering in your organisation’s mental wellbeing strategy.

But firstly, what is an EAP?

An EAP is an early intervention and health promotion program for the workplace, designed to provide confidential and discrete counselling to all employees and managers. The EAP will often have other services attached as well, such as provision of support when there’s been a critical incident, training and education sessions around mental health and wellbeing, and also sometimes integrated into leadership programs as well. The EAP is there as a resource and a support, not just for when reactive problems occur but also to promote mental health and overall wellbeing.- Kash Thomson, Psychologist and Consultant at Yes Psychology

When done well, an EAP has clear benefits to the organisation’s bottom line, with recent research indicating a 5 fold return on investment (Hargrave et al., 2008).

But in conversations about EAP with our clients, we often hear comments such as:

  • Our EAP is really under-utilised and no one knows about it
  • It’s not being used to its full potential
  • We’re really underwhelmed with our service provider including the level of communication or reporting

So how do we overcome some of these challenges?

We recently sat down with Kash Thomson, Psychologist and Consultant at Yes Psychology as part of our Wellness Wise™ TV series to explore how to gain the most from an EAP.

EAP utilisation rates have been reported to be as low as 5%, or even less in some industries.  With one in five people experiencing a mental health issue in any 12 month period in Australia, usage rates of EAP should be much higher and raises the question of why the rate is so low.

Kash notes ‘Primarily some of the issues here are awareness. It means that some of the employees don’t know about the program. But secondly, they don’t know about the scope of the EAP provision. The other thing you see is that there’s a mindset change that needs to happen at the senior level. So senior leaders who see an EAP as a resource for supporting people and retaining people will talk about it and promote it but leaders who see it as a tick a box for safety and risk management only may see that getting a low EAP utilisation rate means we’re going ok. If there’s a mindset about mentally healthy workplaces supporting people, then it’s about promoting access and increasing utilisation rate.’

So how do you get the most out of your relationship with your EAP provider? Kash has some excellent tips for HR, wellbeing and safety leaders to help you choose the right EAP provider for your organisation:

  1. Form a reference group – really think about what your organisation needs and/or wants from an EAP and devise a checklist.
  2. Ask who will be providing the counselling – does the organisation provide counselling only from psychologists or from a blend of psychologists, social workers and counsellors. In Australia, the only health professionals who can diagnose mental health conditions are doctors and psychologists. Understand if there are expectations from your senior managers about who their employees are going to see and at what level can they talk about mental health issues, trauma related issues and complex workplace issues.
  3. Put together a list of EAP providers – who could be a good match and interview them before the tender process. Ask them a range of questions and even get their advice on how to form your tender so you have the best opportunity to get a quality service. For example, how do they calculate your fee structure?
  4. Visit the head office of the EAP provider – arrange to have a meet-and-greet with the call centre staff and talk to some of the counsellors or psychologists who will be providing services to your organisation. It can really humanise the program and give you an understanding of how the background of the EAP works.
  5. Consider the quality of the service. Quality management is not just about having an externally audited quality assurance program, qualifications, or reviewing client feedback. It’s also about how they support the professionals that are supporting your employees through the likes of regular training and check-ins. Also, do they have a particular qualification set for areas of expertise, such as working in trauma?
  6. Ask for client case studies – about how the EAP will tackle particular parts of the service. For example, how does the EAP provide service to a regional site. Or what happens after 9 o’clock in the night? Where does that call go and who takes that call? If there’s a critical incident, what sort of psychological support is available within the first hour, first 24 hours and what sort of follow up is there?
  7. Give the service a test run yourself – Call the EAP provider and see how long it takes to get through to someone, whether you get a response back by email or by phone or by a real person and at what level to get a sense of what the experience will be for your employees.

Keen to delve into this topic further? Tune into the Wellness Wise™ TV episode with Kash in The Hub for more insights into how to best leverage your EAP provider, including specific tips for SMEs. For a sneak peak, see below!