I have a question to all HR Professionals who are reading this article right now: Have you ever tried to use your Employer Assistance Program (EAP) through your benefits provider? Not just provided the brochure when asked, or attended a webinar on the benefits package, but actually tried to access the services that are offered through the provider?
I was recently in a position of trying to access mental health services for myself through an EAP, and I have never accessed a more confusing process before. I've administered benefits for hourly employees for over 3000 employees in both Canada and US and was led to believe that these systems were streamlined to be easy to access. I have been experiencing heavy feelings of anxiety and dread lately, and since it persisted for a longer duration than normal, I knew I have to reach out for support. I am thankful that my colleagues, and family recognized the shifts in my behaviour to help me move forward with seeking help.
Using the online services, the first step was the login process. This required me to have the flyer with the proper access code. They were only located in the office in the lunchroom, so already I felt the peer pressure as I took a picture of the flyer and wondered what my colleagues thought I was up to. Afterwards, I was directed to the website, which was blocked by the firewall in our office internet, so I had to try again at home. This was a surprise since the service was something that the company wanted employees to access, and then restricted it to off company time. I then has to get past the login screen, I was required to provide my life story in the form of name, address, etc., before being able to actually see the services that were available to me. By this point, I wanted to give up. I was already feeling emotionally drained, and all of these steps were not helping. Once I was able to browse services, I was presented with menus that took me to blog posts about "10 best ways to handle stress" and "5 ways to save money for retirement" instead of actual health care providers. When selecting links like "Wellness", there was an article for depression, and 3 more about "eating right" and "getting more sleep". This was not helpful, and a Pinterest board would have had 30 "mommy" blogs that could have provided better information.
This takes me back to the quote "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". The design thinking for these types of programs needs to be done in reverse of most HR processes. The first step for the employee should be to know what services are available, find a provider, and then have to provide information that verifies identity and employment. This would lead an employee to be more likely to access services that they need, as they would feel as though they know what they are getting before the administration step of providing name, address, etc. The touch points should be minimal and should reflect broad needs that use universal language - "Anxiety/Depression", "Family Counselling", "Financial Needs" are overarching titles that can lead people down the paths they need to the services they want.
Ask yourself; how is someone who is emotionally troubled able to put up with all steps needed to get to the help that they actually need? I wouldn't classify my experience as an emergency situation, however what if it had been? What if the person seeking help was having self-harm or suicidal thoughts? Would 4 pages of forms help them get the help they need?
EAP's are the last thing on employers mind when it comes to deciding on benefit packages for their employees, so they are often presented as an additional value service, but should they be relegated to the back bench when they can be some of the most important services your employees access?
I ask that all HR Representatives, advisors, business partners, directions and VPs take a chance to learn first-hand how to access these services in their organization. You will need to provide them to an employee at some point in your career and trusting that these services are there when they need it most may lead to more harm than good.
Tell me about your best and worst stories from your experience with Employee Assistance Programs! Remember, power is gain from sharing knowledge!
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