When times are tough, trying to keep your workforce motivated and loyal can be difficult. Paul Avis and Michael Newstead suggest implementing tailored rewards and an employee assistance programme.
In tough economic conditions, with added pressures to perform, motivating employees to give their best on behalf of an organisation can become even more challenging. With little room for manoeuvre in terms of salary increases, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or other form of reward can be an excellent way to continue retaining the loyalty of workforces.
EAPs can help employees find the right work-life balance and increase productivity while alternative rewards can make employees feel more wanted through a tailored approach.
EAPs provide a high touch/high perceived value benefit while being one of the most affordable benefits available to employers, with prices starting at £5 to £10 per employee per annum.
However, currently only around 10% of the UK working population are covered by some form of EAP. Despite the EAP Association’s attempts to gain a more concise penetration figure, there is no single summary which captures all varieties of EAP, such as those embedded within private medical and cash plan benefits.
Even so, compared to the USA, EAP penetration is low. According to a Towers Perrin survey, the three principal reasons for EAP provision are providing employee wellbeing (91%), combating stress (58%) and compliance with health and safety (31%).
With EAP provision covering a diverse range of 24-hour services including emotional wellbeing, relationships, addiction and recovery, financial debt/budgeting, health and wellbeing, legal information, workplace issues, child and elderly care, parenting challenges, education and critical incident, it is evident that employees can find good reason to avail themselves of the services on offer.
No need to stress
Some employers view EAPs as a form of crisis/counselling helpline. However, as seen from the services listed above, an employee does not have to be stressed out to take advantage of an EAP. Our own experience shows that 80% of employee usage is non-clinical and relates to work-life based queries.
One of the challenges faced by providers is getting healthy utilisation. Pitching a service solely on the basis of a ‘counselling/clinical/have to be broken to use it’ approach often alienates employees, especially male employees, and so an emphasis on a positive/partnering/information resource approach works much better.
Employees can talk to expert counsellors and consultants in confidence about issues affecting their work or personal lives. Following a telephone call, up to 20% of employees will then request follow-up supporting material in a variety of formats including print, PDF, CD and MP3 downloads. A wide range of communications materials are therefore needed to meet the requirements of wide employee demographics. Generational competence is key to employee engagement.
For those reluctant to initially divulge their concerns, EAPs usually have online facilities working in parallel providing comprehensive, confidential web-based information. Online self-assessment tools are also an important service and can provide the employee at a confidential level with access to other services such as a health encyclopaedia.
The reports provided back to an employer can provide information on such usage and identify health risks, stress and depression levels, the productivity impact of presenteeism and absenteeism etc, and go way beyond traditional utilisation-based reports.
Historically, between 10 and 15% of the employee base avail themselves of the services provided by an EAP by telephone with many more accessing the online services. Provision from an employer perspective is therefore attractive, as the costs for delivering the services on offer are relatively low and yet the value from the perspective of employees is high, whether they use them or not.
Compared to private medical, income protection and pension cost provision, an EAP represents even better value to an organisation. For an employer, the return on investment is usually in the region of two to four times the original outlay.
A published review of 80 research studies on EAPs and counselling at work, by Professor John McLeod of the School of Social and Health Sciences at the University of Abertay in Dundee, called ‘Counselling in the workplace: The facts’ indicated that over 90% of employees who make use of workplace counselling are highly satisfied. Looking at just one area, the alleviation of anxiety, stress and depression, counselling has been shown to be generally effective, with more than half of client employees returning to a normal range. EAPs have also been shown to reduce sickness absence rates in client employees by between 25 and 50%.
Professor McLeod’s own report conclusions state that: “Even the most rigorous economic analyses show that workplace counselling schemes and EAPs cover their costs with higher cost EAPs associated with higher utilisation rates, implying greater cost-effects.”
Line managers are key to the success of EAP provision. Where they become champions and advocates of an EAP, employee take-up is consistently high, leading to overall employee satisfaction and motivation.
EAPs can equally be beneficial to managers themselves. Through manager coaching, EAPs can help them with difficult employees or difficult situations. Managers are not immune to stress either and are often the employees who are under the most pressure and the most likely to sue where they feel unsupported by the organisation.
EAP provision covering health, wellbeing and engagement can therefore really drive the wellness and productivity strategy of an organisation.
Similarly, reward programmes which move away from ‘one size fits all’ to ‘one size fits one’ are further ways of motivating staff. Benefit programmes tailored to the profiles of individual employees such as childcare vouchers for parents are more likely to have resonance.
As with the parallel online EAP services, benefit programmes incorporating web-based solutions, accessible day or night, increase their successful take-up. Properly designed, they are easy to access, intuitive to use and provide the employee with a clear understanding of the total benefits reward they are entitled to.
Quality programmes demonstrate through Total Reward Statements the full value an organisation is paying to the employee. He or she in turn can see in detail an itemised breakdown of what they earn from their employer in terms of salary, pension, private medical cover, company car, etc that the organisation provides on their behalf.
In both cases – EAP and benefits reward programme – good management information is critical. In the former case, dynamic reporting software can highlight areas needing attention, such as excessively high work pressures in a department resulting in higher than normal stress-related call levels. Line management support training to spot and manage stress would be appropriate in such situations.
The capability to measure return on investment by assessing the impact of interventions leading to reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, lower medical insurance claims etc, are imperative, especially in the current economic environment.
Assembling all the above in a corporate dashboard gives senior management a clear picture of the effectiveness of programmes, plus ways to measure the impact of interventions and place a cost/benefit value on them.
In an ever challenging workplace, making an employee feel valued and cared for through the provision of an EAP and tailored benefits reward programme can go a long way to maintaining motivation and engagement. This in turn can benefit the employer through resultant productivity gains.
Paul Avis is corporate development manager, LifeWorks, at Ceridian and Michael Newstead is head of reward and HR information at Ceridian. For more information, go to: www.ceridian.co.uk