The importance of increasing understanding and awareness of EAPs

To ensure employees use and benefit from employee assistance programs, employers must be proactive and advertise them

This is part two of an exclusive four-part series on the importance and benefits of employee assistance programs. To read part one, click here.

Your practice has implemented an employee assistance program (EAP), which demonstrates to staff you are a compassionate employer and interested in providing workers with the resources and anonymity to seek help in a safe and secure environment. So what are the next steps?

To put a slight twist on a familiar saying, if you build it—and no one knows about it—no one will come. From the perspective of administration, if you offer an EAP, staff must first know it is available. Further, employees must be aware of the services the EAP includes, understand it is confidential, know that scheduling, inquiries, and other aspects of the program are handled by a third-party, and that it is offered at no cost.

Getting the word out

Hospital administrator Jessica Speas CVPM, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-SCP, CCF, of Crescenta Canada Pet Hospital, suggests managers be diligent about distributing and posting all materials they receive from the EAP to increase awareness and engage employees.

“I place brochures on my desk and use the hospital’s communication platforms to keep staff updated about webinars, new services, or other offerings coming out of the EAP. I also hang EAP posters in the restrooms because these are private spaces where workers can copy down phone numbers and services without being observed by their colleagues,” Speas says.

She also recommends shoring up the first line of defense by educating supervisors about services and encouraging them to be observant and aware of behavioral changes. That said, Speas is clear supervisors should not act as counselors when they spot a team member who is wrestling with an issue. “That’s the purpose of an EAP. Once a problem is observed, we direct the employee to a place where help is available,” she adds.

Nicole Becker, a certified veterinary technician and practice manager at North Boulder Companion Animal Hospital, credits her supervisor and the hospital’s EAP for having a positive impact on her life. Several years ago, Becker dealt with a challenging and distressing situation in her personal life. Her supervisor noticed the change in her persona and suggested she seek help through the EAP. At the time, the hospital had just implemented the program, and Becker reached out. Not only did the contact person identify several qualified specialists, but she also went so far as to set up the initial appointments and check in on Becker’s progress.

“Without a knowledgeable supervisor and the availability of counseling services through the EAP, I’m not sure what the outcome would have been,” Becker explains. “After using the initial services, I was able to transition into a longer-term counseling arrangement using my insurance.”

A broad range of offerings

Depending on the program provider, services can vary. Some EAPs offer mental health counseling, financial services, legal help, support for families with teens and workers dealing with aging parents, help with identity theft, recommendations for childcare and eldercare and more. Given the range of services, promoting them widely and often increases their use among employees. Speas offers the example of an employee who had recently given birth and wanted information about drawing up a simple will. As new parents, she and her husband had talked about the need to have a will. When they discovered they could secure one through the hospital’s EAP, they were relieved.

Other areas to highlight

In addition to distributing good information and educating staff, an EAP awareness campaign should focus on ease of use. “Crescenta has been with our current EAP for the past year,” Speas says. “The program is easy for both administrators and staff to use. Administrators can make a recommendation to an employee and offer EAP contact information, but they do not schedule services. The employee contacts EAP representatives, who handle the encounter professionally and confidentially.”

Another significant point to stress with employees is that the employer does not receive information about which employees use the program. EAPs are completely confidential.

Responding to issues raised by employers

It’s clear there are many compelling reasons for offering an EAP in the workplace, but along with the benefits provided, some employers have raised questions about such programs.

Some employers have questioned whether their staff members would even use the services available to them through an EAP. As discussed earlier, to ensure employees use and benefit from these programs, employers must be proactive. Advertising the program and services offered throughout the workplace is very important, as is highlighting the confidential aspect of EAPs and ensuring sufficient information is available for employees to independently access services when needed and without fear the employer is monitoring use.

Among employers, there are those who prefer to fund more robust health-care plans than invest in EAPs. A more extensive health-care plan, however, may not include the range of services provided by an EAP—such as legal, financial, social, and short-term counseling—that can help address issues before they spiral out of control and impact all areas of an employee’s life. A staff member stressed about childcare can find solutions through an EAP that may not be available through a traditional health-care plan.

Finally, although EAPs add value, there is not a lot of information available regarding the employer’s return on investment. Therefore, it is up to the employer to examine variables such as absenteeism, turnover, and long-term disability to determine whether the EAP has had an impact in the workplace.

The bottom line

Practices offering EAPs to employees are creating an environment that demonstrates the employer takes the health and well-being of its team seriously. Providing an EAP is only half the battle. A concerted and targeted awareness campaign for an EAP increases employee awareness and use. Employees must understand these services are free, confidential, and designed to help them address the myriad issues we all confront. Once employees have a clear understanding of their EAP benefits and the specifics of the program, they are more likely to use them.

Beth Drost is a communication specialist who has worked on veterinary industry issues for more than a decade. She is a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s (VHMA’s) public relations team and is collaborating with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) to produce this series of employee assistance program (EAP) articles.

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