5 Conditions for Effective Employee Assistance Programs in 2021

Employee assistance programs during COVID-19

 

Employee wellness resources for the workplace

Since COVID-19 began, mental health concerns have increased significantly within all aspects of daily life. As employees adjust to working from home, stress, and uncertainty affect both wellbeing and engagement. Companies play a core role in communicating, de-stigmatizing, and supporting the mental health of their employees. Often, this is done via employee assistance programs (EAPs). However, companies need to innovate for the new challenges of Coronavirus, as well as the second pandemic it brings: a wave of stress, anxiety, and mental health needs.

However, statistics show that most employees don’t feel comfortable speaking up about mental health concerns. 

Only 31% feel they can communicate their stressors with their employers. That means ⅔ of employees may well be suffering in silence. With 1 in 5 working Americans reporting a mental health diagnosis, companies are now focusing on preventative mental health care to take a stronger stance and proactive approach. (Giorgi et al., 2020). By making prevention a core part of an employee assistance program, companies can not only save cost from more serious cases, but also ensure a more cohesive workforce.

Open communication and preventative measures are only the first of many changes that need to be implemented in the workplace. Companies are finding that stress levels within their demographics are decreasing with each new measure that is implemented. Employees and employers need care and respect for all the positives and negatives that come with life. During a global pandemic, these needs are rising at a much faster speed than companies ever anticipated. Employee assistance programs traditionally offer options such as therapy. However, companies often report underutilization of employee assistance programs. It's not uncommon to see utilization of such valuable mental health resources in the low percentage points.

Why is utilization of employee assistance programs so low?

Often, employees don't know what's available due to lack of communication. They delay seeking care, and once they have a severe problem, don't think to look at the EAP because they weren't familiar with it before. Second, due to stigma, culture, or personal preference, many employees may still feel uncomfortable speaking to a therapist. Finally, in a day packed with zoom meetings, busy, type-A individuals often won't take the time to practice proper self-care unless it's made a priority from top leadership.

 

Mental health is often put on the backburner by companies, to eventual serious consequences

Companies and employers who delayed spending time to raise awareness around mental health found that they had larger issues long term and these issues only grew when the pandemic hit. This makes the need for mental health preventive mental health care clear. Most employee assistance programs focus on the severe side of the spectrum, but often by the time people seek help it's a dire situation. As we continue to fight through this pandemic, the consequences of mental health have become clearer over time. Companies can prepare for the looming aftershocks of COVID-19 by supplementing severe-need resources in employee assistance programs with more preventive, educational ones.

With individuals and companies increasing the awareness behind mental health, employers are becoming better able to create plans that will help support employees. (Thomson et al., 2020). It is important to note that before your company implements a system or program, take a look at the individual needs within your employee demographic. By ensuring that the program your company has chosen is most suited towards your employee’s needs, it will allow for more focus to be given to each individual. There may not be one current solution that helps every person struggling with mental health concerns, but there are guidelines in which companies can use to open a line of communication and then be able to create a more personalized solution for each employee.

 

Five steps for effective employee assistance programs

In a recent paper by Sean Newman and Robert Ford, researchers outlined a five-step program that suits most common factors related to stress levels increasing within American companies and their employees during this current pandemic (Newman & Ford, 2020). While the world shifts to remote working, the interactions between bosses and employees will change, causing mental health discussions to be impacted. 

 

1. Open employee communication

The first step of this program is to establish and explain the new reality in which we are currently living. By accepting and acknowledging the new reality, it will allow for employees to adapt to new forms of communication and interpersonal relationship skills. By turning to remote work conditions, it can be hard for some employees to adjust. With open understanding and a line of communication, employees can share concerns and suggestions allowing for an easier transition.

 

2. Strengthen company culture

The second step enforces the trust to continue and strength within the leadership throughout this new change. With constant changes happening, employees need to understand that the old company culture can not be relied on. Instead, new rules and guidelines must be taken as the formal rule for the current time being. With stronger trust in company leaders, employees will be able to work harder and more efficiently knowing they have a caring and efficient leader behind them through these challenging times. Instead of leaving employees to seek out employee assistance programs, companies can weave an employee assistance program more tightly into the fabric of a company's goals and values. They could rally all employees for company-wide events, such as mental health month, to make it clear mental health is a "we" priority.

3. Help employees feel heard

After establishing a strong leadership, the third step is to update all forms of communication and information sharing techniques within the company. With trust in the leader and reliance on effective communication, employees will know that their voice is always heard. With reliable remote access to all employees, they are constantly receiving the most up to date information. Having a clear and reliant form of communication allows all employees to be contacted at moment’s notice. Continuous updates from human resources or leadership teams can improve employee assistance program uptake by keeping it top of mind. Asking employees for feedback on their employee assistance programs can also shed light on where a culture of stigma or fear might exist.

 

4. Create a culture of shared leadership

The fourth step of this program encourages the leaders to create a shared leadership with other employees. By opening the order of leadership, this creates a sense of trust and open communication within each employee and allows for closer collaboration. This places confidence in every section showing that everyone has the ability to have their voice heard. By tying employee assistance programs to leadership, companies can decrease stigma while encouraging the development of more emotionally intelligent, well-rounded teams. And, by empowering all employees to share in this self-development process, companies are telling employees that they value developing them both as leaders and as humans.

 

5. Proactively provide preventive training

The final step is to periodically check in with all employees to ensure each individual is aware of the company's mission statement and its values. With changing times, and new guidelines being implemented constantly it is important that the basic notions of the company are still clear and implemented throughout all aspects. Many employee assistance programs that only provide care on the severe side of the spectrum miss a huge percentage of the employee population that feel their needs aren't severe enough to warrant medication or a therapy visit. Or worse, some who may have mild needs end up utilizing those resources because they are the only thing available. By providing more preventive care, companies can reach mild cases before they become costly severe ones.

 

Managing employee mental health

By implementing this new five-step program within your companies, research has shown that stress levels will decrease, and companies will see an increase in mental health awareness within employees. The five-step program ensures that open communication, safe spaces, and a clear understanding of concerns are available to each individual. Providing different approaches for the companies allows for improvement within their communication to help individuals. 

The world is still dealing with the current consequences of the COVID-19 virus, and we will continue to overcome these hurdles for the foreseeable future. If we have learned anything from this recent change in normalcy it is that mental health is a very important factor in many individuals lives (Moreno et al., 2020). As we spend over 1/3 of our lives at work, employees are now looking to a company's employee assistance program to address their whole-human health and wellness.

 

Whether we know it or not, we are all dealing with mental health in our own ways. No one is immune to mental health struggles and each will have their own experience with it. Some may be struggling with a relationship: a breakup, or a divorce. Others may feel overwhelmed with tasks, unable to keep up with goals. Still others may feel crippling decision anxiety or anxiety over the future given COVID uncertainties. These all should be normalized in a company as as "mental health," not just serious, diagnosable elements like depression.

LIFE Intelligence: employee wellness and development in one

LIFE Intelligence is a comprehensive program for self, career, and relationship development. It bridges both mental health and leadership development in one unified program to address all aspects of an employee's life. LIFE connects with Newman & Ford's 5-step model by 1) prevention and 2) developing a culture of shared leadership.

Whether frustrated with a colleague or fighting with a significant other, mental, emotional, and social ruts affect productivity. LIFE Intelligence aims to help you solve the root cause of these stressors with a practical tool for total self-and-other management. This two-part tool includes (1) reactive problem-solving exercises and (2) proactive lessons on personal and professional development.

 

For immediate needs, instant therapy, coaching, and relationship counseling snippets help you navigate situations in minutes. For long-term learning, LIFE’s 9-Mission (module) course helps you scientifically manage stress and anxiety, improve work productivity, and build lasting relationships, covering:

 

1 Mental agility and cognitive training

2 Self-awareness and emotional intelligence

3 Values, goals, habits, project management competencies

4 Regret and time management

5 Decision-making, biases, investments

6 Stress, social support, and social influence

7 Love, attachment, dating and relationships

8 Communication and conflict resolution

9 Leadership and team motivation

For context on just how much is covered in LIFE, meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) comprise less than 1% of our content. Our goal is to provide you the breadth of therapy, leadership coaching, and relationship counseling, all at a fraction of the time and price, for those looking for a more private and affordable “DIY” option. If you could use a preventive and culture-building app if your workplace, contact us to learn more about adding LIFE Intelligence to your employee assistance program.

Erin Garvey
January 16, 2021

References:

Arendt, F., Markiewitz, A., Mestas, M., & Scherr, S. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic, government responses, and public mental health: Investigating consequences through crisis hotline calls in two countries. Social Science & Medicine, 265, 113532. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113532

Bufquin, D., Park, J., Back, R. M., Meira, J. V., & Hight, S. K. (2021). Employee work status, mental health, substance use, and career turnover intentions: An examination of restaurant employees during COVID-19. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 93, 102764. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2020.102764

Carbone, S. R. (2020). Flattening the curve of mental ill-health: The importance of primary prevention in managing the mental health impacts of COVID-19. Mental Health & Prevention, 19, 200185. doi:10.1016/j.mhp.2020.200185

Giorgi, G., Lecca, L. I., Alessio, F., Finstad, G. L., Bondanini, G., Lulli, L. G., . . . Mucci, N. (2020). COVID-19-Related Mental Health Effects in the Workplace: A Narrative Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21), 7857. doi:10.3390/ijerph17217857

Hamouche, S. (2020). COVID-19 and employees’ mental health: Stressors, moderators, and agenda for organizational actions. Emerald Open Research, 2, 15. doi:10.35241/emeraldopenres.13550.1

Moreno, C., Wykes, T., Galderisi, S., Nordentoft, M., Crossley, N., Jones, N., . . . Arango, C. (2020). How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(9), 813-824.  doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(20)30307-2

Newman, S. A., & Ford, R. C. (2020). Five Steps to Leading Your Team in the Virtual COVID-19 Workplace. Organizational Dynamics, 100802. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2020.100802

O’Connor, D. B., Aggleton, J. P., Chakrabarti, B., Cooper, C. L., Creswell, C., Dunsmuir, S., . . . Armitage, C. J. (2020). Research priorities for the COVID‐19 pandemic and beyond: A call to action for psychological science. British Journal of Psychology, 111(4), 603-629. doi:10.1111/bjop.12468

Sasaki, N., Kuroda, R., Tsuno, K., & Kawakami, N. (2020 June 11th). Workplace responses to COVID‐19 associated with mental health and work performance of employees in Japan. Journal of Occupational Health, 62(1). doi:10.1002/1348-9585.12134

Thomson, S., Doan, T., Liu, D., Schubert, K. O., Toh, J., Boyd, M. A., & Galletly, C. (2020). Supporting the vulnerable: Developing a strategic community mental health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Australasian Psychiatry,28(5), 492-499. doi:10.1177/1039856220944701

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