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Connect the Dots Between the EAP and Empathy: Supporting a Mentally Healthy Workforce

Connect the Dots Between the EAP and Empathy: Supporting a Mentally Healthy Workforce
Posted on Thursday, July 2, 2020 by Marcy Klipfel
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Mental health awareness has come to the forefront in recent months, and it’s a topic that we at Businessolver have been studying for several years.

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However, despite a media focus and social buzz on these issues, many employees and even employers don’t have an avenue to start the dialogue and employees may not be aware of the resources available.

According to our 2020 State of the Workplace Empathy Report, 92% of employees say that employers should do more for overall well-being. Such a staggering statistic may cause employers to throw their hands up and say, “We offer so much. What’s the disconnect?”

Maria Lund, President and COO of First Sun EAP, says, “HR professionals may not be aware of the full range of EAP services that are available.  We find that companies that have the best utilization have an HR professional who has used the service and shares positively with employees.”

One of the best benefits to offer would be an employee assistance program, or EAP. As of 2019, the SHRM Employee Benefits research report indicated that 79% of surveyed employers offered an EAP. According to SHRM, some benefits of an engaged EAP can be:

    • Decreased absenteeism
    • Reduced accidents and fewer workers’ comp claims
    • Greater employee retention
    • Fewer labor disputes
    • Significantly reduced medical costs arising from early identification and treatment of individual mental health and substance use issues

So, if an EAP is offered, why don’t more employees take advantage of this resource to support their mental and behavioral health? Again, our Empathy study reveals a telling idea:

64% of employees think if someone reached out to HR or management about a mental health issue, it would negatively impact their job security. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition report that shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment.

Clearly, there’s a mental health stigma alive and well in the American work place. There are some proactive approaches organizations can take to connect the dots for their workforce to help them understand the resources available and to create a community of support.

Keys to communicating EAP benefits:

  • Connect real issues to the EAP support:

Communicating benefits is a challenging task. Work with your EAP, benefits vendors or communications team to create some communications that highlight real life scenarios that your workforce might face.

Examples could be caregiver burnout, marriage stress, alcohol problems, or managing a troubled teen. Vague words like “counseling” and “help” won’t be as effective as giving some real examples.

  • Help employees identify their issues:

Often, people struggling with mental health issues don’t realize their reactions and struggles are treatable and qualify for outside help. Mental health checklists can be illuminating for employees to help them identify depression, anxiety and poor coping mechanisms.

  • Be specific about the support:

Use very straightforward language about what to expect if an employee needs to contact the EAP. “You will get to talk one-on-one with a mental health professional and find out what your options are…” Many people are fearful about reaching out and don’t know what to expect. Letting them know they will have assistance to sort out the next step of their journey can be important.

  • Emphasize confidentiality:

In all communications about the EAP, be sure to emphasize that all issues are confidential, and details will not be communicated back to you as the employer. Doing so will eliminate that fear of reprisal and exposure that may be stopping an employee to seek support.

  • Become a vocally supportive organization:

It may take some time to build the trust and mental health community in your company. Using all of your channels for communication to alert employees that you care and understand mental health challenges will help stop the stigma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.org) has a Stigma-Free Company designation and resource kit to get you started, and your EAP vendor likely has resources available as well to help you.

  • Use positive language to help de-stigmatize mental health support:

Lund recommends this kind of messaging, “…healthy people take care of themselves! We talk about stress that life throws at you and how to grow through it. This helps people feel permission to use their EAP without having to admit to being somehow broken.”

  • Launch a Mental Health Awareness Month in May (or any time):

May is typically the designated month for mental health awareness; but if you missed it this year, it’s never the wrong time to create avenues for discussion, host webinars, have mental health “breaks,” do specific outreach to your population, share stories about mental health and have some on-site counseling. Now, more than ever, employees need a sense of support as the future continues to feel uncertain.

  • Communicate mental health benefits from the top down:

Work with your executive, leadership and management teams to educate and communicate the value of a mentally healthy work place – both to the bottom line and to creating the empathetic work place that workers respond to. Train them on how/when to recommend the EAP resources to their employees. Ensure they know exactly how to contact the EAP and for what circumstances. Ask them to create channels of communication and support, so employees know the EAP is a safe, encouraged, and healthy benefit.

Your workforce will work harder and smarter when they sense their organization has their well-being in mind and they are supported beyond their “9 to 5.”  Getting clear with the benefits, communicating the support often and well and making strides toward becoming a stigma-free company can lay the groundwork for mentally healthy employees.

Get more mental health resources here.