How Employee Assistance Programs Can Improve Mental Health in the Workplace


The month of May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Mental health issues are not a new problem, but in 2019, we have more people who feel empowered to talk about it. In the workplace, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can arise from conditions such as a negative work environment and harassment. The Workplace Well-being Report was released yesterday, highlighting the effectiveness of employee assistance programs (EAPs). This article analyzes its findings and looks at what lies in store for EAPs in the future.

The Workplace Well-being: A Summary of the 2018 Workplace Outcome Suite Annual ReportOpens a new window was published yesterday in partnership with the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA). It analyzes 24,363 employee cases in addition to the data provided by a range of employee assistance providers globally.

The report revealed that at work, distressed employees are unproductive for around eight days a month. Organizations may be aware that every employee has unproductive days, and each month, employees who are healthy (in this case, who do not suffer from mental health issues) tend to have four unproductive days.

To tackle this issue, organizations have started investing in employee assistance programs (EAPs), sometimes outsourced to external agencies. EAPs help employees tackle personal or work-related issues that may hamper their performance and productivity.

“Mental health has outgrown the stigma that once surrounded it. Companies are recognizing the impact poor mental health can have on employees and their productivity. Not only does this benefit their employees, but it also showcases them as employers of choice in a highly competitive landscape,” says Barb Veder, Vice President and Chief Clinician at Morneau Shepell, an employee assistance provider, speaking exclusively to HR Technologist.

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EAPs Are Here to Help, but Who Is Listening?

It is not easy for people with a mental health issue to come forward and talk about it, especially in a formal environment like the workplace. Though the stigma is wearing away, conditions like depression and anxiety are still perceived as signs of weakness.

“Traditional EAPs are treatment-focused, which means that we centered our products and services on the treatment of people who self-identify as having issues,” says Barb. “The problem with being treatment-focused is that we only reach the 10 percent of people who come forward and ask for our help with their issues.”

Does this mean that EAPs are not effective enough to reach out to the remaining 90 percent of the workforce that is facing an issue?

Barb thinks that they definitely are: “We need to understand the presenting issue, the level of severity, their lifestyle and their learning style and have enough choice available to match an intervention to them that is meaningful and helpful at that moment. We have the opportunity to do this through video, through chat, and even online self-directed programs that deliver support and understanding around our personal issues.”

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Does Technology Boost Participation in EAPs?

Of course, using technology to deliver support is effective because employees are likely to feel safer behind a screen and in the confines of an environment that they are comfortable in. The report found that users who engaged with their counselors through a chat feature would not have done so in person.

Technology has the potential to encourage employees to seek help when they need it the most. It also means they can be reached out to wherever they are, and the burden of going out there and seeking help is not entirely on them. A mobile app can take help to them.

“With a mobile application and internet access, we are able to reach 100% of the population,” reveals Barb. “Everyone has a phone, so we can reach people who don’t work at a computer or in an office all day. We can reach people who work remotely or in isolation and we can help them be proactive about their mental, physical, social and financial wellness.”

And how has the digital transformation of employee healthcareOpens a new window benefited organizations?

According to the report, counseling through EAPs benefited both employees and employers. The problem employees encountered in terms of workplace distress reduced from 22 percent to 13 percent. That is a significant drop, and it may be safe to assume that this translated into greater productivity.

“A mobile application can deliver short, daily, bursts of personalized content that can encourage an individual to make incremental changes to their behaviors, swapping negative ones for positive ones. This helps them maintain their overall wellness proactively,” adds Barb.

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What Is the Future of EAPs?

In an era of mental wellness apps and other technologies in place to help people tackle their mental health on their own, one may wonder whether EAPs can add value and improve people’s lives. Yes, they can. The report found that the implementation of EAP counseling restored a total of 2.1 full days of productivity.

Now, EAPs can go further than just tackling mental health-related issues in the workplace. For instance, Morneau Shepell has expanded its services to provide holistic care by including nutrition, fitness, and legal and financial guidance services, says Barb. “So we don’t support people only struggling with a mental health issue in a moment of crisis, but people seeking legal and financial guidance, encouragement to stay physically active, ways to improve their sleep habits or interpersonal relationships.”

Mental health issues can be dealt with when they are addressed at the right time. By using a well-designed EAP and mobile devices to enhance their reach, organizations can ensure that they are helping their employees at a time when they need the support the most.

When marketed effectively within an organization, an EAP can go a long way in improving employee well-being in the workplace and in enhancing the overall employee experience.

Does your organization actively promote employee assistance programs? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , LinkedInOpens a new window , or TwitterOpens a new window . We’re always listening.