There’s no question that mental health and employee satisfaction are linked together. In fact, studies conducted by the World Health Organization have found that globally an estimated 12 billion working days are lost to mental health issues, depression and anxiety. Across the Asian Pacific region, mental health on average accounts for more than 20 percent of total YLDs.
The Covid-19 pandemic also had a direct correlation on individual levels of happiness and disruption of everyday activities. Research by the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health found that the pandemic negatively impacted the health and well-being of the Asia-Pacific population in terms of both physical and mental health.
As a way to counteract this, many employers started offering EAPs to support the overall health and well-being of their employees. Companies who have utilized EAPs have found that investing in the well-being of an employee is overall beneficial to the company as a whole and comes with an array of benefits. For instance, if an employee is happier, companies have a greater chance of retaining them long-term. Understandably, this decreases turnover, which reduces the need for frequent hiring, onboarding, and training of new employees. Employee retention can be accomplished through the implementation of an employee assistance program.
Concept of EAP
Also known as an employee assistance program, EAPs refer to an employee benefits program. EAP may be called other terms around the world, such as workplace well-being benefits. This is one way that companies are seeking to ensure the happiness and health of their team members. In fact, a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson found that 40% of APAC employers have sought to enhance well-being programs as a result of Covid-19 – and EAPs are one way to do just that.
Employee assistance programs are typically offered by companies to help employees resolve problems, whether it is work-related or personal issues that one is experiencing. This might include substance abuse problems, dealing with grief, financial problems, or relationship challenges. Services are conducted through confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, as well as other mental health services. All of this can contribute positively to the benefit of an employee, both in their personal and professional work.
EAPs are most often offered to employees free of charge as a way to encourage employees to utilize services. These free services usually even extend to employees who opt out of the company’s health insurance plans. Depending on the company, services may be offered in-person or online. Resources offered via telephone might take place over an app, video-based counseling, online chatting, or email interactions. Thanks to the relatively new concept of telehealth, employees are able to access services anytime, from anywhere. It provides a more flexible alternative to in-person therapy services, enabling employees to easily incorporate this into their already busy schedules.
Companies who are considering adding an employee assistance program should carefully consider what this would entail, including some pros and cons of offering an EAP. Here’s a close look at some of the traditional pitfalls associated with EAPs.
The pitfalls of traditional EAPs
Studies have shown that EAP usage is below 10%, meaning that the majority of employers opt out of utilizing services. With that in mind, it’s worth taking a closer look to understand what contributes to the low usage rates. Employees have expressed hesitations ranging from feelings of isolation to stigmatism surrounding seeking mental health services. To counteract this, it’s up to employers to take the time to understand some of the negative aspects of self-care work apps, and what steps they can take to remedy this.
Traditional EAPs are reactive, only helping after a problem appears
One of the main concerns associated with traditional mental health apps is that the program is designed to be reactive, instead of preventative. As such, help can often arrive after a demonstrated crisis instead of intervening before to help an individual navigate through a crisis. While support during a crisis situation can be tremendously helpful, it’s best when individuals can receive services beforehand to help prevent the crisis from occurring or equip them with the tools to best navigate through a crisis. Furthermore, EAPs are limited in the fact that they are unable to predict risks from occurring.
Understandably, enduring hardships – whether professionally or personally – can take a toll on an employee’s overall health. It can also create obstacles that prevent individuals from getting the resources they need. This can also have an impact on the employer and company as employees can experience weeks of lost productivity due to crisis and not getting the help that they need in time. To avoid this, employers can encourage their employees to utilize the services before it gets to this point.
Traditional EAPs take employees on an isolated journey
Since EAPs often operate through delivering telehealth services, this can spark feelings of isolation among users. Compare this to in-person mental health services that allow for face-to-face connection. Some individuals find that they have an easier time focusing in a therapist’s office, as compared to holding therapy virtually where there is a greater chance of work or home distractions.
Additionally, employee based programs depend on employees to take initiative and look for help on their own. Individuals must be proactive in seeking out services and booking sessions, which can feel like a daunting prospect to some who are seeking help. Features such as self-led journeys are helpful for some, but lonely as the experience is individual and not shared
Traditional EAPs fail to address the stigma of mental health concerns
Mental health has long since been considered a taboo topic with many negative stigmas attached to it. This narrative is slowly starting to evolve as more and more individuals are recognizing the importance of prioritizing their mental health, but still remains prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region. To combat this, many governments within the Asia-Pacific region are taking strides to reduce these stigmas and promote the human rights of mental health patients.
Unfortunately, there are still many harmful stigmatizations that deter individuals from seeking help. Despite many organizations seeking creative ways to boost their employee’s morale, company culture as a whole has not changed to allow for open discussions surrounding mental health needs. As a result, some individuals might experience feelings of shame when it comes to getting help. For instance, EAPs have a limited scope as a “mental health solution” which can dissuade older employees or those who are not familiar or comfortable discussing mental help concepts.
Traditional EAPs are too limited for diverse needs
Another downsize of EAPs is that their services are often too broad to appeal to users and are unable to individually address one’s issues. They typically offer limited forms of support for employees who may prefer different forms of therapy. Additionally, traditional EAPs are often a short-term approach to mental healthcare and fail to offer a long-term plan. Because of this, users can lack the well-rounded services or follow up that they need.
The limitations of employee-based programs can also negatively affect organizations. EAPs take on a bottom-up approach to wellbeing, which can prevent change from happening from the top. As a result, this does not improve company culture or communication between groups within the organization.
Traditional EAPs struggle with utilization
As a result of the above limitations, traditional EAPs tend to suffer from very low utilization. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, on average employees use assistance programs at a rate of 10 percent or less. This means that most employees who have access to employee assistance programs are not using them.
There are many reasons that contribute to this. For instance, some employees do not fully comprehend what EAPs are, how to access their services, or the benefits of utilizing services. Concerns surrounding confidentiality and patient privacy can serve as a major hurdle to why individuals might hesitate to use EAP services. While therapists working for EAPs must uphold the same levels of confidentiality and privacy as all other therapists, some individuals may question the confidentiality of accessing help by this means. Still others find employee assistance programs hard to navigate. Despite how EAPs offer a significant amount of great resources, this influx of information can feel overwhelming to wade through.
These misconceptions about how EAP services operate can be a barrier for employees from seeking services. To avoid that, it’s up to the employers to provide factual information about EAPs and what their employees can expect, including as it pertains to confidentiality. Taking these extra steps can lead to a higher usage rate of EAPs, further encouraging the growth and wellness of one’s company.
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What does an effective EAP look like?
Despite some pitfalls associated with traditional EAPs, employee assistance programs can be a great addition to a workplace when implemented correctly. The Asia-Pacific region has close to half of its estimated 450 million people who are impacted by mental illness globally. EAPs can provide valuable resources that support employees through hardships – without their work suffering as a result. Plus, companies who invest in their employee’s mental health can reap the benefits of increased productivity and less turnover.
A good EAP empowers proactive care
Prioritizing mental health should be a goal for companies and a good EAP provides a way to meet that goal. A good self-care app offers an avenue for employees and their families to be proactive, instead of reactive, when it comes to seeking care and accessing resources that will enable them to thrive. This is important considering how an annual CMHAHK study found that in Asia, 83 percent of employees reported going to work despite symptoms of poor mental health.
Self-care work apps provide a wide range of resources and the opportunity to further one’s skill set. Employees can be proactive to use the app and, as a result, increase skills to handle stress, increase mindfulness, build resiliency or be more assertive. Another worthwhile perk of utilizing an EAP is their fast service. The time between requesting an appointment and getting one is often shorter when through an EAP than opting to find a private practice therapist on your own. This enables employees to get the care that they need faster and more efficiently.
A good EAP enables communal growth
Providing support through an EAP can help promote community. Having a wealth of shared resources allows employees to pursue a collective journey towards wellbeing that helps build trust , ultimately building trust among team members and improving rapport.
A good EAP equity & inclusiveness
A high-quality EAP should be comprehensive and easily accessible for all. As such, it’s essential that companies should offer EAPs that encourage equity and inclusiveness. Companies can use employee assistance programs to increase efforts to address structural and cultural inequalities.
Done right, EAPs are highly effective
When taking into consideration the pros and cons of traditional EAPs, organizations might be wondering whether it is worthwhile to incorporate an EAP into their own business. While EAPs might not be perfect, this is an opportunity for companies to show their employees that they care and are willing to invest in their health and wellness. Employees will benefit from having access to a wide array of resources at their disposal. A study conducted in 2018 by the Federal Occupational Health found that companies with EAPs experienced a 69.2 percent decrease in absenteeism and a 10 percent decrease in workplace distress. Needless to say, when employees are well, their performance improves.
Research on the prevalence, cost, and characteristics of EAPs suggest that employee assistance programs are a worthwhile investment. To ensure that EAPs are effective, companies should monitor their EAPs to make sure that they are meeting their objectives. This can be done through establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for monitoring progress on a monthly basis.
While EAPs certainly have a number of appealing attributes, there are no doubt opportunities to continue improving programs to center on offering a more holistic approach to health and wellness. The pros and cons of implementing an employee assistance app should be carefully considered, but there’s no doubt that boosting wellness can lead to increased employee satisfaction and create a more productive workplace.