If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that workplace stress can come from many factors, many of which can be unexpected.

Stress in the workplace is nothing new, of course, and is extremely pervasive. Studies from the American Institute of Stress indicate that 80% of workers feel stress on the job. With about half indicating that they need help in learning how to manage stress in their workplace. 

Managing employee stress in the workplace is not just a nice-to-have feature, either. Respondents also noted that 25% of them have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress. 14% felt like striking a coworker in the past year but didn’t. And 10% are concerned about an individual at work they fear could become violent. 

However, it’s not just an individual’s mental health at risk. The resultant loss of productivity from employees that are dealing with excessive stress, burnout, or escalating mental health concerns costs businesses in the United States over $200 billion dollars annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

To help, the majority of companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

What is an Employee Assistance Programme?

An EAP is a counselling and consultation service that provides confidential support. It’s an affordable option for many companies, with costs ranging between $5 to $24 per employee per year, who want to help meet the needs of their employees.

Within most EAP, employees are provided with telephone/remote access to a counsellor or mental health provider. As well as referrals to doctors, therapists, or other supports that may be of value. Such as assistance in child and elder care, financial planning. As well as perks and discounts at local vendors.

Beyond the EAP, health programs typically focus on getting more physical activity, better nutrition, and additional relaxation and calming techniques to deal with the physical costs of stress in the workplace. 

Yet, as wonderful, and necessary as these supports sound, and as accessible as they are, they are almost never used. Research shows less than 10% of employees use EAP. Even lower for employees who identify as being a part of a minority group. 

With the need so prevalent, and the use so minimal, what can you do to help employees take advantage of the resources that you have invested in to help them be their best selves?

For many, the EAP is a forgotten part of the onboarding experience and is given little notice at the annual benefits’ renewal. 

Every company should be discussing the benefits of the EAP on a regular basis. As well as providing employees with an ongoing awareness of the components and encouraging them to ‘test drive’ the programme. Ways to accomplish this might include:

Openly Discuss the Plans

  • Regularly schedule a “Mental Health Minute” at the beginning of staff meetings. Focus on workplace stressors, identify ways to help relieve that stress, and how the EAP might help.
  • Discuss the needs of your individual employees during their one-on-one meetings with you and highlight how accessing the EAP might be of support to them

Set the Tone

  • Open up the discussion about burnout, stress, or other mental health needs. Check-in with your employees and assure them that talking about these topics is not a sign of weakness. 
  • View your employees as valuable investments to be taken care of rather than replaceable cogs. Take the time to focus on all aspects of their wellbeing. Start by examining your actions as a leader that may be actively or inadvertently contributing to their burden. 
  • Regularly ask your employees how they’re doing, taking into consideration the additional stressors of the new normal, and give them space to take care of their needs with the support of the EAP as needed.

Address Cultural Needs

For many employees, talking about their mental health needs is not only an uncomfortable intrusion to who they are in the workplace but also who they are as people. Studies have indicated that EAP use can vary by the generation of the employee, as well as their ethnic and religious backgrounds.

  • Actively seek out ways to broaden the discussion for those employees, be sensitive to their beliefs about the role of mental health in their daily lives in the workplace and in the culture. 

Focus on Confidentiality

Most of these programs are administered by a third-party provider, with reporting limited to how many employees used the service. 

  • Highlighting the confidentiality aspects of the EAP in frequent communication may help relieve some of the concerns about how the program works, and who, if anyone, would know that they had reached out and what they might have discussed. 
  • Identify and share other confidential mental health resources that are not related to the EAP, but are also confidential. These will act as pathways for the employee to build trust in reaching out. For example, Crisis Text Line, RAINN, the Suicide Prevention Hotline, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Your employees are your most important resource.

Leading them in the middle of unprecedented time requires a multifaceted approach to ensure that they have the resources they need to take the best care of themselves. 

Getting the most out of your EAP can be a part of how they—and you—tackle these changes.