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Consulting Corner: Addressing Assignee Mental Health Through EAPs

Around the world, there is still a stigma associated with seeking help for many issues, so it is important for an organization to build a culture that embraces overall themes such as mental, practical and physical well-being.

12 January 2018

In a recent Bristol Client Connect piece, we highlighted the growing concern of employee mental health.  That introductory discussion may be found here:  http://www.bristolglobal.com/bristol-news/the-rising-concern-on-employee-mental-well-being/

In summary, stress, anxiety and depression are on an alarming rise globally, severely impacting individual and company performance. What can be done about it?  For one thing, more and more companies are addressing employee health concerns formally through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).  Bristol is a firm believer in the value and effectiveness of EAPs, and this is why we have chosen to spotlight them in more detail.  

WHAT IS AN EAP?

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines an EAP as an employer sponsored intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting their performance at work, such as marital, financial or emotional problems, family issues, or substance or alcohol abuse. EAPs may also offer a wide array of services covering basic legal assistance and referrals, adoption assistance, help finding elder care services, wellness programs, and more. 

Joining Bristol for this discussion is Jean-Baptiste Gruet (J.B.), Senior Vice President of Global Business Solutions for Workplace Options.  Workplace Options is a leading provider of global employee support, work-life, and wellness services, serving more than 53 million employees in over 78,000 organizations worldwide.

Bristol: Thanks for lending your expertise to this discussion! 

J.B.:  Thank you, Martin and Bristol!  I am passionate about this business and appreciate the opportunity.

Bristol:  Can you frame the challenge for us?

J.B.:  Studies have shown that stress and anxiety, demands on time from personal and family matters, mental and neurological disorders and other situations can impact individuals’ ability to function in the workplace.  The WHO says that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives and that around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions. They also tell us that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.  

Bristol:  Would you say the challenges are even greater for globally mobile employees?

J.B.: Certainly there are unique stresses.  With so many potential issues that can affect employees work and their lives, the process of an overseas move can further exacerbate a situation.  Individuals can experience culture shock, isolation, impact on sleep, extensive travel an extended hours working across time zones. So there is an obvious need for organizations to support their employees and their families, especially those who are traveling or living internationally.  That’s where employee well-being programs such as an EAP can play a key role.

Bristol:  What has been your experience with clients regarding implementation and utilization of EAP programs?

J.B.: One of the major challenges that organizations can face with an EAP is to make sure that their employees are aware of the benefit and will utilize the service to help fulfill their needs. Many people will be introduced to the benefit during a program launch or introduction, but will forget about the service after a while, so ongoing promotion is needed for top-of-mind awareness.

Also to ensure the success of the program, it is essential to get buy-in from the organization’s senior leadership, and for the company to promote the services regularly.  Ideally the CEO or another high-ranking official will communicate about the program and help make employees comfortable in using services for themselves and their families, and “Champions” can be selected to help keep the program visible to all.

Around the world, there is still a stigma associated with seeking help for many issues, so it is important for an organization to build a culture that embraces overall well-being themes such as mental, practical and physical well-being. By providing services and actively promoting them, organizations can help remove some of that stigma for their teams, encouraging them to make use of available services to help them be at their best at work and throughout their lives. Especially in the case of foreign travel or assignment, organizations can benefit from making special efforts to provide services to assist employees and their families, and to remind them about such services on a regular basis.

I would like to call your audience’s attention to an excellent report (please see case studies from the Global CMO network sponsored by Bupa here: https://www.bupa.com/~/media/files/site-specific-files/our%20purpose/workplaces/health%20our%20business%20iii.pdf) that shows what some organizations have done in terms of initiatives. Companies who are proactive and creative in terms of promoting their Employee Assistance Programs can experience a “healthy” utilization rate, sometimes significantly above 5%.

Bristol:  That is a fantastic set of case studies.  And thank you for your valuable comments.  How would you summarize some key takeaways?

J.B.:  I’d say, here are some Best Practices for a Successful EAP Launch:

  • From a client perspective:
    • Need senior leadership and local key stakeholders buy-in
    • Corporate funding (at least for first year or two) and single global contract/billing
    • Champions - Engage in the communication and promotion
    • Special Branding
  • From the vendor perspective:
    • Understand client culture and communication style/expectation
    • Explain clearly the program with all key stakeholders (i.e.: work councils in Europe)

It’s important to remember that improving employee mental well-being is not something that will happen overnight. It takes a commitment to the betterment of your employees from the entire organization.  It’s an ongoing investment, but with the right approach, great progress can be made.

Bristol: Thank you, J.B.!

In conclusion, Bristol would say this issue is not just a matter of human empathy, but a bottom-line business issue.  Stated more positively, a happy, well-adjusted transferee does a much better job for your company and brings a higher, measurable return on investment.  

Some additional reading you may find helpful: 

http://www.workforce.com/2016/06/13/nothing-in-life-is-free-not-even-an-eap/

http://www.workforce.com/2015/05/28/few-companies-taking-a-leap-of-faith/

https://www.leidos.com/sites/default/files/responsive/Health/GSRS-a-proactive-approach-to-expatriate-and-family-support.pdf

Should you have any questions, feel free to address them to Bristol Global Mobility or to JB directly, whose contact information may be found below.

Jean-Baptiste Gruet (JB) oversees global products sales, consults with HR professionals and WPO partners worldwide on new business and relationship opportunities. JB has been with Workplace Options for 10 years and in the well-being services industry for 18 years. Prior to moving to North America, JB co-founded a language and cultural publishing company in Paris and worked for an executive language and training company in London. He currently resides with his family in Toronto, Canada.  He can be reached with any questions at jbgruet@workplaceoptions.com.

 

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