New research suggests that Employee Assistance Programs – commonly utilised by many Australian businesses as a tool for both staff wellbeing and recruitment – may not be successfully assisting struggling employees.
A survey of almost 400 Australian workers, conducted by workplace consultancy outfit Thriving Tribes, found that 66 per cent of employees do not see their own workplace’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as an effective avenue through which to combat stress.
Many organisations “proudly claim” that their EAP is their primary strategy to assist employees who are struggling, said Thriving Tribes founder and resilience consultant Graeme Cowan.
“Theoretically, the opportunity for a distressed employee to speak anonymously and for free to a trained counsellor should be very positive, [but] the fact that only one in three employees consider it effective is worrying,” he said.
“Anecdotally, you hear a number of reasons why this could be the case. These include: it is far too reactive, the quality of the counsellors is very variable, and because it is anonymous, it is very hard to access robust feedback.”
As a result, companies must seek to understand why EAPs might not be considered effective, he surmised, and also demand more from services such as these.
When asked what are the most effective avenues through which one can combat harmful workplace stress, survey respondents said: exercising more (84 per cent), taking breaks during the day (78 per cent), speaking to a manager or colleague (63 per cent), taking days off work (60 per cent), decreasing work hours (50 per cent), speaking to a GP (50 per cent), looking for a new job (32 per cent) and speaking to human resources (27 per cent).
Only 34 per cent of respondents said contacting EAP would be effective in addressing workplace stress.
In response, employers would be wise to consider how they can create a culture that aids wellbeing, such as improving the “will and skill” of all employees to have supportive conversations, Mr Cowan said.
“Employees will only share they are struggling if they sense they won’t be unfairly judged,” he advised.
“Quite often, solutions can be found to a problem when they are shared with a trusted colleague.”
In addition, he suggested that firm leaders take action by being an example for their subordinates.
“Nothing speaks louder than a manager walking the talk about workplace wellbeing. Managers could commit to having more walking meetings… having a 30-minute brisk walk can fit into any work day (or, before and after),” he said.
“[Research also shows] we are most productive when we do concentrated work for 45 minutes and then take a break by doing something completely different. It is very easy to set a timer on your phone – and when the time is up – stand, go for a wander, or phone a friend.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.