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.
As part of the ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ strategy, an additional investment of £400m has been ploughed into psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a form of therapy that looks at how our thoughts can create our feelings and mood, playing close attention to the relationship between our problems, our behaviour and our thoughts.
One of the therapy’s benefits is that it tends to be short, taking three to six months for most emotional problems.
However, the benefits of this new investment will take time to filter through. Meanwhile, waiting lists for CBT are still at an all-time high. With an increasingly overburdened NHS, there is clearly a need for employers to take a more active role in supporting employees’ mental wellbeing.
But in recent years, the EAP market has been relatively static and as more providers flood the marketplace, price has been driven down sometimes at the expense of service.
Michael Jelley, consultant at independent healthcare adviser Manage Health, explained why he believes there is room for innovation and a more pro-active approach among employers and providers.
“There still remains a perception that counselling is a last resort for the mad, bad or for those going through a divorce.
“Employers have a key role to play here in ‘destigmatising’ it, so that employees view it as an aid to maintain general wellbeing rather than something that they turn to as a last resort.
“There is a world of difference between an organisation that simply offers an EAP and one that takes the time to develop a plan that is in line with the particular needs of their workforce and then actively promote that plan.
“The tendency in times of economic difficulty can be to retrench and not to consider more proactive ways of supporting staff. In fact, these are the times when it is more important than ever to send out positive messages to your employees and show that you are listening and are aware of their needs.”
Jelley said that there is evidence that EAP providers are looking at ways to widen the services that are offered to provide support and positive outcomes for behavioural change in the work place.
This might range from coaching managers on how to handle conflict at work or breaking bad news to training for an individual who wishes to be more assertive at work. He also cites encouraging examples of EAP providers focusing on a more proactive approach to wellbeing through health and well being surveys.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which employers can create a dialogue with their employees and develop ways to support them in response to the specific needs of individuals.
Stress, mental health and employee wellbeing are all topics set to remain at the top of the agenda for HR managers over the next year. In the current climate, the key to maintaining a workforce that is engaged and positive lies in understanding their needs, developing support that is relevant and easily accessible and ensuring that employees know about the benefits that are available to them.
Sue Weir is chief executive of Medicash