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The next generation of employee assistance

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Alan King, president and managing director of Employee Advisory Resource, talks about the next generation of employee assistance services and the benefits for employers.


There’s no doubt about it – the employee assistance market is undergoing radical change. We are moving away from a prescriptive approach that focuses on standard definitions and products, towards more bespoke solutions designed specifically for individual employers and their employees – solutions that seek to better leverage the unique and privileged relationships employee assistance programmes (EAPs) create with employees.

Yet these market changes have not altered the primary drivers for introducing EAP services into the workplace. Employers implement EAPs because they provide a positive return to a company’s bottom-line; by improving individual productivity, reducing absenteeism, strengthening employee retention and contributing positively to the health and wellbeing of the workforce.

What to expect in the future

  • Bespoke service design for all clients regardless of size

  • Professional facilitation and mediation services

  • International service provision and support

  • Health and wellness coaching

  • Specialised EAP support targeted to executives and senior managers

EAP providers must continuously find new and different ways to impact these drivers in order to maintain the effectiveness and relevance of their services – often in light of government initiatives and regulation.

In the UK, employee support legislation is far ahead of the game relative to many other countries. Increased government focus on health issues, such as smoking and obesity, offers a challenge and opportunity for EAPs to proactively support employers.

Integrated support service

Additionally, practical issues are receiving greater emphasis as part of an integrated support service. EAPs recognise that employee stress is often triggered by practical life issues, for example difficulty in locating child or elder care or worries about family finances.

Providing emotional guidance on how to manage and cope with that stress will be minimally effective if the underlying cause is left unresolved. And the need for such support is significant.

While UK social services offers reasonable resources for dependents, support for the carers – as well as those indirectly affected such as partners, children, siblings – is limited. The latest Census shows that there are now over five million people caring for their family members, friends and neighbours, with three million of those people combining their caring responsibilities with full or part-time work. That’s one in every eight employees. And when you consider that in 30 years time, 25 per cent of the population will be aged 65 and over, the significance of the challenge grows.

The Work and Families Act – which extends the ‘right to request’ flexible working to carers – is a step in the right direction. But the best employers are going a step further by looking at professional facilitation and coaching services for their employees, such as the award winning Care Coach.

Care Coach is geared towards supporting the carer while at the same time recognising that carer stress is generated for and by others as well. These enlightened employers recognise that supporting staff through difficult times such as caring for older parents or relatives will pay dividends in the long term and they are seeking out new products and services designed to provide this support.

Improve access to services

Stress How far do organisations support stressed employees?

  • Formal internal support: 48 per cent

  • No support offered: 23 per cent

  • Outsourced specialist support: 15 per cent

  • General information offered: 9 per cent

  • Informal advice:
    5 per cent

Source: Employee Advisory Resource Wellbeing Survey

In addition to new products and services, EAPs are evolving in other ways as well. We understand that we can only fulfil our commitment to employers when our programmes are fully and effectively utilised. As such, we must continuously look for ways to improve access to services by engaging with employees wherever and whenever they need us. This includes applying technology beyond simple website libraries of written content to create genuinely interactive connections to our services and counsellors.

For example, using an ‘instant chat’ application allows an EAP website to open a real-time communication link between a user and EAP counsellor – an alternative to the traditional helpline. The result is more than just another point of access – it is also outreach to a traditionally under-served user demographic, 20 to 35 year-old men.

So while there are general trends going on in the market place, there are not general products. In the face of increasing competition, it is up to EAP providers to respond, to innovate and to use their expertise to develop something that is new and different.

Providers of employee assistance are a primary resource for both employers and their employees and the natural connection between the two. At a time when employees are under pressure to manage increasingly complex work and personal lives, EAP services can play a critical role in keeping workers stay focused, productive and present.

The next generation of employee assistance will focus on products and support services that play a role in improving the employer brand but that ultimately deliver results on the bottom line.

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