For many people, making the decision to seek help with mental health or a personal issue, and then actually making that call to the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a very big one.
They might have to give up their feelings of fear and place great trust and faith in the person they are going to speak to.
This is a huge part of the therapeutic relationship that is likely to play a significant part in a positive outcome for them. It’s vitally important, therefore, that an employee’s experience of using the EAP service is easy and positive, and above all, that it is professional and confidential.
Whilst EAP’s have professional counsellors and psychologists to support employees, they also have professional EAP staff and management to ensure the smooth operation of the EAP service.
These practitioners, like counsellors and psychologists, work to their professional standards that must be adhered to.
This includes clinical guidance as well as ethical standards and should be expected by an employer and their employees when engaging with a mental health professional.
The individual receiving support comes first in the work always, they should be respected and valued and the practitioner must work together with them. The practitioner should recognise their own competence and training and should remain within this in order to support the employee in a responsible manner.
It is also part of the EAPs responsibility to ensure that the clinical needs of employees are met by the competency and experience of the practitioner. Therefore, the matching of counsellor to employee is really important and this should take into account the level of competency, training and experience of the practitioner.
Delivering on this involves the recruitment of affiliates to the EAP providers network, the ongoing management of the network, checking practitioner qualifications, their premises and importantly their clinical outcomes. Although these are assumed, hidden, and ultimately require knowledge, effort, resources and management.
UK EAP standards
In the UK the standards that EAP services operate to are set by UK EAPA. While this is part of the global professional body, EAPA, established in the US, the UK standards have been specifically created for the UK market and it these that apply.
All UK EAPA registered providers of EAP services will very specifically work within the standards framework. Knowing that both the professionals and the way that the EAP itself is managed are an important part of the confidence and subsequent trust that employers need when it comes to selecting and using a service.
Hidden standards and quality
There is also a hidden set of standards that the EAP service itself is operating to that ensure that the service is safe and reliable for employees. This applies both to the clinical aspects of the service, but also how the service is set up and managed.
The many staff who are part of the EAP service delivering support, administration, affiliate management and overall service and delivery management are also working within the standards framework set by UK EAPA.
This is often not discussed at all, as the focus of attention is on the counsellors and psychologists. But it is incumbent on service managers to ensure that their activities and those that they manage are indeed performing to the professional standards and it is this hidden professionalism that is a huge safety net to services, but more importantly a quality standard.
Providers too will each have working practices and standards that they operate to in addition to the UK EAPA standards. These may vary enormously and can include areas such as recruitment of staff, training, performance management and auditing, and applies to sales and account management staff as well.
It is not unheard of for providers to insist upon annual personal development targets being met, audit and 360-degree feedback. Such standards will increase the overall quality of staff working for the provider and thus increase service delivery to employers and their employees.
Information technology and the safety of information is another consideration of quality to ensure that personal and sensitive data remain secure.
Some providers will have large compliance departments to ensure this happens while other suppliers might employ one or two specialist IT professionals. However this is achieved, it too is a cost of service quality.
What to think about when purchasing an EAP programme
When thinking about purchasing an EAP programme or changing EAP providers, we urge employers to think about the unseen standards and practices that really go into making a good programme.
Achieving these standards requires design, process creation, implementation and monitoring. It goes without saying that such management and delivery has a cost associated with it, and this is part of the fee that purchasers pay for their EAP. The cost of quality for a service represents a real challenge and should not be overlooked.
EAPs represent tremendous value for money when considering the support they provide to employers and their employees. Access to support is 24/7 with immediate access to a clinician and further clinical services delivered in a timeframe that is quite astonishing when compared to the NHS. From first contact to sitting in a clinician’s room can be a matter of days.
The cost of increasing mental health awareness
As we all work hard to increase awareness of mental health, talking more about our own mental health and encouraging others to seek support, there will inevitably be an increase in demand for EAP support.
Indeed, the EAP industry is already seeing a rise in the use of services reflecting the increase in mental health awareness and action in the workplace.
While this is certainly a positive step forward, the increasing demand for face-to-face counselling that comes with it is putting a strain on resources across the EAP industry.
While the cost of EAP provision has fallen over many years making it a very cost-effective workplace intervention, if we are to continue to meet, and in many cases, exceed quality standards while delivering on this rise in demand, EAP pricing may have to increase and become an accepted part of the cost of supporting mental wellbeing at work.
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