Employee assistance programmes are in the spotlight due to a schizophrenic approach by government. But as Sue Weir points out, they are backed by solid research.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) were thrust into the headlines last year when a report from the Independent Office of Tax Simplification recommended that tax relief relating to welfare counselling be abolished.
The announcement caused more than a ripple in the EAP industry because it implied that providing support and advice to employees in the form of counselling should be categorised as rewarding or incentivising staff.
Under health and safety legislation, employers have a duty of care to protect employees’ health and manage risks, so the proposed change appeared to contradict existing government advice.
However, another report on sickness absence published in November by Dame Carol Black and the British Chamber of Commerce’s David Frost recommended the retention of the existing tax relief and expectations within the health insurance industry are that government will accept the findings of the review.
A U-turn would be welcomed among organisations of all sizes at a time when austerity measures are beginning to bite and many employers face the tough challenge of making financial savings at the same time as keeping their employees engaged and positive.
For employers facing the prospect of making redundancies, it may feel like an inappropriate time to be focusing on benefits.
But the face-to-face or telephone counselling offered through an employee assistance programme demonstrates to staff that they are valued and can mean the difference between them returning to work quickly or becoming a long-term sickness statistic. Most important of all, it allows staff to access support instantly without the need for a referral and in total confidence.
Lindsey Drake, HR advisor at chartered accountants Princecroft Willis, agreed. “The work-to-life balance here is generally very good and we maintain a constant dialogue with employees to ensure that they feel supported. But if problems at home are causing stress for an employee, then it’s really important that they feel able to ask for help.
“Our experience of the counselling service with our EAP is that it has a positive effect on attendance levels and has helped to reduce the incidence of long-term absences.”
The counselling services accessed through an EAP mean that employees can access help for a wide range of issues, from stress, financial worry, relationships, anxiety, depression or bereavement through to information on stopping smoking or advice on wills and probate.