Managing Workplace Health: Employee Assistance Programmes

Employee Health
For any organisation, employee health and wellbeing are of major importance – and the figures that are regularly reported highlight why this is very much the case. According to the Confederation of British Industry’s 2011 Absence Survey, the cost of sickness absence to the UK economy is £17 billion annually. There are various areas where sickness absence can impact a business. The UK employment service ACAS identifies some of the main ones as including the following:

  • Recruiting and paying temp staff to replace staff who are off sick
  • Missed deadlines due to absence
  • Lowered morale due to other staff having to take on additional responsibilities

One major cause of staff taking sick leave is psychological illness – in fact it’s the number one reason for sickness absence in the UK. Approximately a quarter of workers suffer from a mental health problem at any one time, the main conditions being stress, depression and anxiety. The UK charity Mind says that “mental health in the workplace is the elephant in the room. It exists but is too often ignored”.  But with raised awareness and encouraging employers to create a mentally healthy workplace, the charity hopes to make improvements in this area.

Employee Assistance programmes and other staff health components
Many organisations take a targeted strategic approach to workplace wellbeing – and many also offer wellbeing benefits such as business medical cover for their staff. Studies have indicated that money invested in staff health and wellbeing is outweighed by the positive impact on productivity and reduced absence.

Minimising sickness absence can be achieved in a combination of ways, one of which is by providing an employee assistance programme (EAP) for staff. An EAP is a support service for staff that typically offers employees support around a range of issues that affect people’s lives – from clinically led support and advice to information and help on issues surrounding things like debt, housing and relationships. Counselling is among the types of support offered as part of an EAP.

Towards a healthier workplace
Given the figures regarding mental health issues and the workplace, it is no wonder that, according to Mind:

70 million working days are lost each year to mental ill health, with 10 million of these directly caused by work-related problems

The charity also points out that FTSE 100 companies who took action on employee health issues outperformed their competitors in 2009 to the tune of 10%.

Of course, an EAP isn’t going to be suitable for every organisation but there are lots of ways to improve staff health such as drawing up a wellbeing strategy, and making sure line managers are trained in how to spot the signs of mental health issues in staff.

About the author: Jen Jones writes for a number of blogs and websites on workplace wellbeing topics such as corporate healthcare, employee assistance programmes, and general health issues.