Employee Assistance Programs for Holistic HR

Historically, employee assistance programs (EAP) address the needs of employees involving their ability to perform their job. They are often voluntary and offer some level of counseling aid, whether directly or through referrals. If the employer offers decent benefits, then the EAP could extend to every member of the employee’s family. An EAP’s intent is that a happy and healthy employee makes a productive and engaged one. However, EAPs often fall short. They either do not address the holistic needs of an employee altogether or the assistance provided isn’t sufficient. There’s also the possibility that employees aren’t even aware of the program and what assistance is provided; therefore, the program goes overlooked and underutilized. I think it’s time to revamp the employee assistance program and bring it into the year 2022. Here’s why. Employees are living with unaddressed trauma that is usurped by more trauma daily. Social media has given us the ability to view news and trending topics at our fingertips, so when one part of the world experiences something we all collectively experience it. And while a secondary experience isn’t the same as directly experiencing an event, that doesn’t mean that we all don’t collectively walk around with the heaviness of the world on our shoulders. While at work we’re expected to compartmentalize that heaviness away, but at what expense? What do employees want in an employee assistance program? A great EAP addresses all the needs of the employee. A quick way to assess whether your program is up to par is to evaluate whether your EAP provides relief from what’s happening globally. Does your program address the grief that employees are facing from loved ones passing from COVID? What programs address the weight gain some employees have put on since the pandemic started? What about the PTSD employees may be facing from the war in Ukraine? How are you alleviating the financial stress employees are facing with rising inflation? Are you requiring employees to return to the office but not providing childcare assistance? Most EAPs will refer an employee to an outside source. The downside to this is that the employee still must do their due diligence to choose the source that best fits their needs and there’s typically a cost associated with the service. If the service is associated with insurance, there may be a limit on how often the employee can use that service. Is there a better way to meet the needs of employees? I think there is. I think there’s a better way to address the needs of employees while eliminating employee costs for additional services. The solution is to bring as many services as possible in-house. What does that mean? That means that instead of offering counseling referrals, hire a therapist to work onsite or virtually. That therapist, or more depending on your headcount, will provide free confidential sessions to your employees. If you’re requiring your employees to work onsite, then provide an onsite daycare. Do you have employees that want to be healthier? Add a nutritionist and personal trainer to your roster. Do you have employees who want to process their trauma, in addition to therapy? Offer trauma-informed yoga. Do you offer professional development coaching to your executives? Extend that to all employees. Maybe an employee doesn’t want a coach but wants to grow professionally. Offer them free Udemy courses. What if they want other resources to learn? Then offer them free Kindle books. Is your employee feeling the added financial stress from rising prices? What if your employee is now a part of the sandwich generation and they’re caring for children and parents at the same time? Offer them a financial coach to review their budget to help them make better financial decisions. Work tends to address the social aspect of holistic health, but rarely provides avenues for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. When we start addressing employees’ full needs, we give space for employees to truly be engaged and productive at work. A wonderful place to start when revamping your EAP is to survey employees to gauge their main stressors and then build programs to address them. You’ve revamped your employee assistance program, now what? One of the biggest reasons EAPs aren’t successful is that most employees aren’t sure what services are offered. This means you’ll have to consistently market your EAP to your employees. It is also helpful when leaders advocate for programs by sharing how they’ve found success with using EAP. This could help employees who may be hesitant to try a program for one reason or another. Lastly, with the new and improved EAP, ensure your employee can take full advantage of the programs by allowing them time throughout the workday to use the programs they need. With the addition of meeting them where they need it most, you also offer them the ability to truly break away from work, which should increase their productivity when they return to work. A successful EAP has the potential to address company-wide issues from employee burnout to decreased engagement and more. Providing holistic assistance not only helps the individual employee but will increase the bottom line for the entire company. In short, revamping your EAP provides a win/win for everyone. Timara Nichols has 15+ years of experience, specializing in human resources, operations, and customer success. She holds the following certifications – aPHR, Certified ScrumMaster, and Meta Certified Community Manager.

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Timara Nichols

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