You made a smart decision. You researched comprehensive EAP (Employee Assistance Program) plans and now you’re interviewing providers in order to offer your employees a host of customized behavioral health services as a valuable new component of your benefits package. Of course, your motives are not entirely selfless. You understand that a customized EAP plan from a specialty provider can decrease absenteeism, increase productivity and lead to a happier, more loyal workforce.
Now that you’re ready to offer your employees all these wonderful, helpful tools and services, how do you make sure your employees take advantage of them? We offer five suggestions:
Build Awareness and Education
If you need to communicate a small process change, a mass company email might be sufficient. But to increase awareness of a major new benefit – or to make it part of your employee onboarding process – something more thorough and intimate is required. Furthermore, most of your employees know very little about an EAP or all it has to offer, so education is as important as awareness. Consider the following:
- Team or department meetings
- Company lunch and learns
- Develop easy-to-understand collateral
- Develop an ongoing internal marketing program
- Designate a subject matter expert to answer questions (typically a member of your HR team)
It’s important to keep in mind that increasing awareness requires more than a one-time attempt. You need to be sure that you’re reaching employees with the right message and with enough frequency that they’ve internalized it and remember it. Think of it like an ad on TV. If you’ve only seen the ad once you’re not likely to remember it. It’s only after seeing the ad several times that you remember the message.
Of course, if your EAP provider is a good partner, you won’t have to go it alone. They should be providing marketing materials, contributing ideas and working with you hand-in-hand to help you develop the right communication plan.
Make It Easy
A comprehensive EAP plan has dozens of benefits and offerings, including multiple methods of reaching out for help. This could cause first-time users to be too confused, overwhelmed or apprehensive to dive in. That, of course, defeats the purpose of any EAP – employees must be able to take advantage of the services they need without needless barriers.
Make sure you find an EAP provider that can customize your plan to your employees and company, so you’re not offering nonessential or extra services. They should also help ensure the products and services are presented clearly and accessed easily. Don’t complicate things; if an employee needs help, it should be as simple as texting, making a phone call or sending an email.
Address Privacy Concerns
Make sure employees know that their information is secure and won’t be shared. Because EAPs can deal with issues involving mental or behavioral health, personal finances and/or legal issues, employers must be aware of confidentiality and legal concerns surrounding those services and communicate how each employee’s interaction with the EAP will remain completely private.
In fact, Federal law requires confidentiality of alcohol and drug abuse records, for example, and there are penalties for unlawful or unauthorized release of information. These same regulations also prohibit the implicit or negative disclosure of information to anyone in the company besides the HR department. EAPs – or the companies that offer them – are simply not allowed to release any information without signed consent, regardless of the nature of the problem.
According to The Society for Human Resource Management, employees are more likely to use your EAP services if they understand this use will be strictly confidential. Additionally, if they fear using the EAP for certain services will have a negative impact on their careers, no one will participate.
Our advice: Be strict about confidentiality and communicate that policy clearly to your employees.
Address Behavioral Health Stigma
Another reason some employees may not take advantage of all the services in your EAP is the stigma of mental or behavioral health issues. The Mayo Clinic’s website calls stigma “a negative judgment based on a personal trait; in this case, having a mental health condition.” This stigma and accompanying discrimination are linked to outdated beliefs that mental illnesses don’t have the same biological foundation as physical issues, plus repeated media depictions of people with mental illness as being dangerous and unstable.
In an article from Psychology Today, Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D. points out the widespread nature of these depictions. “People tend to hold these negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.”
Removing the stigma is no simple task. It would require the reversal of centuries of ignorant and prejudicial thought and actions. A cultural change is needed. Employers can’t drive this type of change alone, but they should have an interest in playing an important role in driving change.
Employers can start by providing a forum for open discussion. One idea is to bring in a behavioral health professional to talk about the facts, dispel misconceptions and to discuss the bravery and benefits of seeking help. The primary goal of such an event is to give each employee the confidence to get help when they need it without fear of professional or personal repercussions. Another idea is to be sure when messaging employees about physical health or well-being that you include emotional/psychological health messages, as well.
Tell the Whole Story
As long as you have a comprehensive plan, you need to make sure you tell your employees the whole story. Don’t overly focus on just the serious behavioral health issues like substance abuse; communicate the full breadth of services your EAP provides, which may include:
- Financial consultations
- Legal consultations
- Eldercare and/or childcare referrals
- Identity theft recovery
- Professional development
- And many more
Want to know if you have the right EAP for your company or learn more about increasing employee engagement in your EAP? Click here and we’ll be happy to help or call Espyr at 866-570-3479.