Boost Your Company’s Employee Assistance Program

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I, like so many others, was surprised, shocked, and sadden at the recent news about Robin Williams’ passing. I was in a meeting when the breaking news alert went off on my phone and without even thinking I exclaimed, “Robin Williams has died!” … and the meeting went silent as others opened their phones too or just took a minute to think about it. Now I know that there is a lot of details and opinions out there about this tragedy and I don’t want to talk about how the media is handling this.But it did get me thinking from an HR perspective. I DO want to discuss Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).  Often times, as HR people, we need to play the role of “counselor” when working and listening to our employees and what they need– and since we’re not true, certified, counselors, we need to arm ourselves (and our companies) with resources to refer employees to qualified professionals. There is SO much to talk about when it comes to EAPs, but I’m scope it down to two things I’d like for you to do/consider.

EVALUATE YOUR EAP

I’d challenge you all to *really* look at your EAP program and what does it offer. Many people think of their program as only offering some sort of counseling services. However you may be surprised as to what your program offers. Many programs offer various financial and legal services — I’ve even seen programs that help find or refer for dependent care (both for child and adult care) and pet care services.  Some will even offer training on various topics and programs either exclusively for HR or even for employees and managers. Great services for YOU (HR) and your employees (and their dependents) to use that can help with simple or even complex tasks. Ask yourself, do you  know what is offered in your program? If you don’t know, I’m willing to bet that your employees and managers don’t know either. That’s a shame because this program is for them.

If you find that you don’t have an EAP program, take a deep breath :), and I’d recommend that you consider doing one of two things (or both). Talk to your benefits providers or broker to see if there is an option to add one (take the time to do a proper RFI and RFP (request for information and request for proposal, respectively), all EAP plans are not the same, IMHO).  Also consider talking to social service providers in your area — they often have a great list of referrals or respected professionals. You can refer your employees to those social service providers. I don’t think that you personally want to give the referral, but once again, know who contacts to the service professionals who can get more information and then help point them in the right direction — remember, they are the experts and this is their wheelhouse, let them do their thing.

If you do have and EAP, once you know what it offers, work with the vendor to understand what are your employees using. Also have an idea of what your employees need (or would like for you to add). Your provider or broker should be able to also give you some recommendations — or may even be able to help you run a program evaluation. I would recommend that you take the time to determine requirements and needs internally so that you can be active in a fair and balanced (unbiased) evaluation. Have your third party help you understand what is possible, but no one will know better about what you need than you and your company. Bring the information together during the evaluation. If you find that the program is not meeting the needs of your firm, then its time to make some changes.

SPREAD THE WORD

I think that the greatest mistake companies and HR make with their EAP programs is that they don’t properly communicate it. What do I generally see? A blurb in the handbook, a small section in the benefits book, and/or a mention of it during day one review of benefits — maybe a poster in a breakroom.  If this is what you’re doing, it’s barely the minimum to get the word. Remember, you’ve put this in place (and paying for) your people to you — so spread the word. Put up posters (that’s plural, and keep them fresh and up to date), print wallet cards, send mailers to the home (great way to let dependents know about it), put it on your company or HR intranet, make badge cards, find ways to tie current HR or company initiatives, programs, or comms to the EAP program and link to it. Create a buzz — remember EAP is not just about counseling services so leverage ALL the things that your EAP program does. People pay attention to these programs when they need it — so you have to repeat the message — and make it easy to find.

What are some other ways that you can think of to promote an EAP program?

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