Throughout my experience in wellness over the years, I have seen a recurring pattern across many industries in employers that underpromote and underutilize resources available to help manage mental health. An estimated one in five Americans are diagnosed with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety in their lifetime. Left unmanaged, mental disorders can lead to increased absenteeism, presenteeism, burnout, and turnover in the workplace. And although the once-prevalent placement of stigma on mental health care has lifted in recent years (as we blogged about here), employees are just not getting the message that self-care support is available to them.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) evolved from alcoholism support programs in the early 1950s. Today they’ve expanded to crisis, managed care and work-life balance support that over 77% of employers have in place – but only 4% of employees are utilizing this service. I have found the problem lies in misperceptions on what the program is for, who has access, and what information is shared with employers. It is crucial that employers take control of this situation by using an effective, personal communication strategy.
Branding: We believe the best approach is to be direct and descriptive – call your program an employee self-care resource, work/life balance support, and so on. Make it clear to employees that the EAP is relevant for non-crisis situations. Present it as private and approachable, highlighting the program as a personalized experience with ongoing support instead of a one-time-use call center.
Promotion: Ask the EAP provider to come onsite or host a series of seminars on topics that appeal to a wide range of employees. Think: stress management, divorce, smoking cessation, having a baby, preparing for a leave and adoption.
Customization: Identify specific stressors that could affect employees’ mental health in the workplace. Lawyers are one group notorious for long hours and demanding work. Studies have shown almost one-third experience symptoms of depression and over 20% turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Addressing the physical and mental toll this can take with proper resources shows an understanding and appreciation of the workforce’s efforts while aligning with your company’s best interests.
However you chose to finesse your message, utilizing communication methods best suited to employee demographics is also key. We have successfully revamped many wellness strategies over the years and are here to assist.
The original version of this article was featured in e-magazine HRO Today’s Global Summer 2018 issue and was co-written with Leigh Jose, EPIC Senior Communications Consultant.