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Does an EAP satisfy your duty of care for mental health to your employees? Here’s the brain science…

9th June 2020: by Maria Paviour - founder of Cari

In these troubling times, with so many employees working from home, it is more important than ever for an employer to ensure that the proper, and appropriate, support is available to their workers at the right time, in the right way and accessibly.

For many HR Directors this may mean leaning heavily on their EAP (Employee Assistance Service) to provide that support. But is this the right thing to do, is it what the EAP was designed to do? And does this ensure that workers are able to perform to their best as well as provide a return on investment?

There are two important considerations here:

1. What is the EAP designed to do?

2. Do EAPs fulfil evidence-based, best practice models for delivering mental health and wellbeing support?

The role of an EAP

An EAP is fundamentally designed to provide support when all else has failed. There are two reasons why this is true.

On the one hand, in terms of mental health, they provide a counselling service. This assumes that the individual is already in trouble, suffering with mental health issues. This does not mean that one cannot use an EAP at any time, for any reason, but if you look at the engagement levels, which are frequently around 5% , and survey people as to why they are using it, when it comes to mental wellbeing it is usually a ‘last port in a storm’.

This means an EAP does have great value to those employees who are in a very bad way, who may feel as though they are on their knees and cannot see a way forward by speaking with their colleagues or line manager at work. From that point of the ‘last port in a storm’ is a very important port!

However, an EAP alone has some issues in terms of the neuroscience.

First of all, the impact of stress or anxiety and depression on an individual tends to reduce their capability, and prevent them from being able to act proactively. It also prevents people from being able to recognise their own needs.

We probably have all experienced that at some point.

The time you would really benefit from asking someone, ‘Would you mind helping me, I’m not coping well’ is often the time we cannot see how we can do anything to improve our situation.

This is not wilful or stubborn (although it can seem that way when we have a difficult member of staff who seems unprepared to accept that they need help). This is a function of the brain under stress.

What does this mean for an EAP service?

It means that there are 3 issues:

1. A service that requires you to self-identify at a point when you have probably already lost much of your capability, will struggle to connect to the people who need it.

2. Secondly, due to the unfortunate stigma around seeking counselling, unless you are cool with the idea, you may steer clear earlier in your struggles; in other words, when you could maybe receive a little support and be back on track quickly, counselling is not often the ‘go to’ intervention – even if it is free!

3. Thirdly, EAPs do not provide a preventative solution, they are reactive, awaiting a call, not making a call. Again, a very useful service to have in the wings, but the sub clinical mental health issues that are causing presenteeism and poor performance will not be identified until it is too late.

Best practice for managing positive mental health – and how to attain a 10 x ROI

In 2020 Deloittes[1] evidence-based model for delivering positive mental health described four key characteristics of successful wellbeing interventions (that provide a 10 times return on investment when used together). These are:

1. Preventative – the service must identify and prevent mental health issues from arising – nipping them in the bud with the appropriate level and type of support

2. Organisation wide – a the service must reach everyone, EAPs do achieve this criteria, but only on a reactive level – we have to self-refer and make the contact ourselves. To make the service truly effective a proactive process is best, because, we are less likely to recognise the need for support in ourselves

3. Tailored support – one size does not fit all in mental health, and the best support packages are the ones that ensure the right support is delivered to the right person in the right way at the right time. EAPs are certainly omnipresent, and that is one of their big advantages, having the support 24/7. They also provide one to one service, which is personal, and that is also a big plus for the EAP. The question here is whether, with 43%[2] of workers at a low level of wellbeing, does a 5% average engagement rate with an EAP help? For many struggling to continue to perform it is not the answer (which is where this links back to the need for preventative solutions)

4. Technology – the service needs to utilise technology to enable accessibility. Can technology really solve the problems of employee wellbeing? That is a question that I will answer in another blog shortly…

EAPs are not preventative

In conclusion, the brain science suggests that, while an EAP has great value as part of an employee benefit package, and in providing support for those when they are at a loss to know what to do and where to go – the importance of which cannot be underestimated – they are simply not designed to provide a preventative solution.

In the current mental health climate, with £42billon being lost to UK industry each year due to poor mental health at work,[3] we need to be thinking about driving much more benefit out of an existing EAP service, so that it can proactively support employees, not only reactively.

Proactive mental health intervention – Cari

Over 30 years ago I started to tackle this problem, and this is the reason that Cari was born. She is an AI-enabled mental health and wellbeing super assistant who can help everyone in your organisation right away. She addresses all four of Deloitte’s success factors for wellbeing interventions (published January 2020).

Cari’s job is to help all your people proactively with confidential online wellbeing consultations and real-time personalised support plans, at any time, and immediately boost their wellbeing and improve their performance. She will connect them to right person at the right time if they are displaying a need for more support.

Cari is now free for everyone forever, because we need to help more with the impact of COVID-19. Plus we have a package of additional benefits free for organisations and individuals for up to 3 months.

Does Ai work for mental health? That will also be covered in the blog that is coming soon – find out how controversial I may be on this subject (or not!)?

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