Employee Assistance Programmes

Here in the UK, we are currently seeing many areas of growth and development as many companies publish encouraging figures for 2014. This feeling of optimism and positivity carries with it the knowledge that these high performing firms have often nurtured a special employer/staff relationship, where we see the employee valued by the company and vice versa.

Enlightened management have long understood the importance of a happy and healthy workforce and many will have put in place a benefits package for their employees. These packages may include a pension scheme, profit sharing, private use of company vehicle and health benefits, which will now often include an Employee Assistance Programme.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide the employee with an independent counsellor and completes the wholeness of the health package. Here we see counselling helping with employee’s emotional issues, an aspect of healthcare sometimes overlooked in the past. These days the link between a person’s psychological and physiological health is more widely understood and we now see the man in the street being aware that they may be feeling unwell because of some emotional issue. I know of a college tutor who when he feels poorly instead of rushing to see his GP will firstly ask himself `what am I worried about?`

The link between the psychological and the physiological can be easily and simply demonstrated by holding out one arm at right angles to the body. Imagine the arm being a branch of a tree gently waving in a soft Mediterranean breeze on a warm summer’s evening. Feel it rising and falling as it waves gently in the balmy night air, moving back and forward in time with the sea as it laps softly against the beach. Now imagine your arm is Brunel’s massive Clifton Suspension Bridge with it’s giant stone towers and vast iron chains holding up the huge deck made of steel girders. Think of the ends of this 1,500 ton colossus united to the solid rock of the cliff face, impervious and unyielding to movement.

So what’s the difference here between your arm being a soft waving tree and a mighty solid bridge? The answer is simple – just a thought. Thoughts affect our bodies and wellbeing and this is why we might feel better on a bright sunny day opposed to a dull and dismal one.

The dynamics of a client/counsellor relationship within a EAP setting will include the likelihood that counselling will be in the form of a short term, time limited model of approximately six sessions and counsellors must decide if this fits with their style of working. Moreover if the counsellor feels they would like to work long-term with a client then they should realise that this may not be possible within the EAP setting and that the providing company may not agree to extra sessions. The reason for this is because EAPs were brought about to provide short term support and problem solving and not for long-term client work. Also companies work with contracts and boundaries and need to make a profit and so will expect the counsellor to have a clear idea of what will be required to help their employee. However from my own experience I know of several household names who have gone that extra mile for the wellbeing of their workers.

Of course this is not a one way street in respect of the company’s good will towards their workforce. A happy worker will undoubtedly perform better than a disgruntled one and will return what is called the employer’s `duty of care` many times over with commitment and loyalty. But what exactly is `duty of care`?

`Duty of care` means that employers should take all reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, which includes the physical and mental health of their workers. This legal duty serves the company well because there is also solid business sense here since `duty of care` is said to be a key factor in building trust and commitment in the employer/employee relationship. Additionally it helps to ensure that the skills brought to the firm or gained within the firm stays there and is not acquired by their competitors, which in turn can boost productivity and ultimately profits.

Being that `duty of care` includes both the psychological and the physiological we can see why it’s dynamics are so wide ranging and inclusive. Areas that must be observed to stay within the legislation include: ensuring a safe working environment, defining jobs and risk assessments, provision of proper training, acceptable working hours and the use of rest and relaxation areas. Further to this staff have to be protected from discrimination, harassment and bullying and have proper channels for raising issues which are a concern for them. In this psychological area we can see how the provision of an independent counsellor fits well into the wholeness of the company’s commitment to care.

So in conclusion, Employee Assistance Programmes arrived in the UK some years ago as a positive export from the USA. Their usefulness as a means of employee support has been proven over time to a point now where it’s not only the enlightened and forward thinking companies that provide them.

EAPs are seen as a valuable and important feature of the employer/worker relationship and is reaching a stage now where it’s provision is an accepted norm rather than an unexpected bonus.

Counsellors who fulfil the exacting standards of accreditation and experience that are expected in EAP work can look forward to a busy working life as we see the whole concept of EAPs being available in the workplace going from strength to strength. David Trott © 2014

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