The EAP and the Line-Manager
Tackling stress in the workplace is paramount especially for many forward-thinking Human Resources Managers wanting to reduce sickness absence. Many may turn to an array of solutions for the task, however a fully account managed Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) should be high on their list.
A full and true EAP will sit within a HR strategy as a constant, a 24 hours-a-day 7 days-a-week 365 days-a-year advice, information, resource and counselling service allowing the employee and their immediate household family members access around-the-clock to qualified and professional support when they need it.
The EAP not only will offer the employee support on personal and family issues, but will provide advice on a wide range of work issues including: changes in their work life, personal performance & time management, managing pressure, psychological & emotional issues and on how to deal with stress, anxiety & depression. Employers will encourage contact to the EAP as soon as an issue presents itself and before matters become more serious. However, sometimes counselling is appropriate. If so, then the EAP will arrange for either a series of telephone based counselling sessions or even face-to-face counselling.
From the Employers perspective there will be many advantages of implementing a full EAP and if communicated well through their line managers will see the EAP deliver real results. For instance they may see the EAP have an impact on sickness absence levels with the Line-Manager being able to call upon the EAP within the employee appraisal process, the employee return-to-work interview and even the employee disciplinary procedure. Also two other key areas of the EAP for the employer / line manager are the management referral and the manager consultation tool.
Management Referral: Most employee contact to the EAP will be via self-referral, either self-referral or at the informal suggestion of a manager / team-leader, etc. However, in some situations a formal referral to the EAP counselling service may be appropriate for employees with particular and/or performance issues. The EAP Manager Referral Service helps managers identify such situations and manages the process. The action is to arrange for the EAP to make initial contact with the employee with the employee agreeing to accept the incoming contact. In any case, the decision to refer an employee should be made in conjunction with their Human Resources (HR) Department. Usually only designated HR and/or Occupational Health (OH) Managers are able to make the referral.
Manager Consultation: Expert individual consultation service designed to assist the manager to address workplace issues by helping the manager to understand difficult or behaviour in their team that is having an impact on performance. Equally, to assist the manager in planning effective strategies to deal with the issue in question. Enhancing the manager’s personal development by providing support with issues such as stress and anger management. This service does not supplant the manager’s internal organisational procedures or take away from the manager any of the duty of care the manager has for their own team. What this part of the EAP is designed to do is support both the manager and the employee in the difficult, often emotive, task of performing well in difficult circumstances.
Case study: Health Matters recently picked up a new client employing around 500 staff. The client was at about to make the 11th hour decision to drop their existing EAP provision for lack of usage. Their existing EAP had been sold to them directly by a well respected EAP Provider but there was no structured link in-place between the actual service and the end-user being the employee apart from posters on walls and a one-off hit of leaflets.
The missing link was namely the line managers and getting the line managers/team-leaders/supervisors to recognise potential adverse issues within their teams, and a method of reporting such issues early on to HR.
We persuaded the client not to drop the concept of the EAP. Furthermore we got them to allow us to source an alternative more cost-effective and efficient EAP service. Our alternative offering carried a continuous account management service thereby ensuring that each and every line manager understood the service in-detail and how to interact when confronted by a staff issue. Research has shown that while managers take their responsibilities extremely seriously, they often have difficulty dealing with sensitive and confrontational staff issues. This impacts not only directly on the employee involved, but on the rest of the team as well, as issues aren’t dealt with promptly or effectively. This in turn creates even more pressure and anxiety on the manager.
By assisting the client with on-site briefing sessions specifically designed for line managers Health Matters positioned the EAP as a management tool and following results through regular utilisation reporting clearly showed a significant increase in usage. The utilisation reports also identified any ‘hot-spots’ thereby allowing HR to be proactive in their action as opposed to merely being reactive.
Again, selecting periodic communications of the EAP through the line manager means that the managers play a key part in providing an organisation’s duty of care requirement. Managers are people most in touch with their teams and are therefore responsible for providing this legally required duty of care. Often this is understood only vaguely, and can mean different things to different people.
The EAP from Health Matters will provide each manager with a useful guide namely the EAP Manager Handbook. The handbook covers risk management, post trauma support, procedure for additional counselling sessions, information sources on the programme and the above.
EAPs should no longer be thought of as merely counselling services but rather as an extremely useful management tool, and also as a self-help tool for the employee.