Increasing Workplace EAP Utilization

Increasing Workplace EAP Utilization

This episode of Workplace Matters is the second focusing on Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs); this episode being focused on EAP Utilization.

We spoke with an EAP vendor and a multi-national company about how to view utilization rates, how workplace culture affects them, and 4 strategies to improve a workplace culture for EAP utilization.

Michael Guhin: You’re listening to Workplace Matters. In part one we discussed why EAP’s are a valuable benefit to any workplace. In this episode we will be discussing EAP utilization, and how workplace culture can increase it. 

Michael Guhin: As we covered in our previous episode, Employee Assistance Programs (or EAPs) provide a variety of benefits to employees and can be an invaluable resource to any workplace. However, they are typically underutilized by employees. The factor which determines these rates more than anything is a workplace’s culture and we have 4 recommendations to improve that, but before talking about culture, how do we even assess EAP utilization. We asked Gail Suter from Continuum Employee Assistance Program how to evaluate utilization rates. 

Gail Sutter: So, I think we need to look at utilization rather than just numbers, but really doing a little more drill down of what this means. How are you doing it? And drilling down into each of the areas that we’re focusing on to say, is this really working well for you as an organization? Not just, OK, you have a utilization rate of five percent, and that’s the typical national average. So, you’re doing fine. I think you have to look at it in depth to really make those decisions. 

Michael Guhin: Look at each service your EAP offers such as legal services or financial planning to determine this. A workplace’s culture is what impacts those rates more than anything else as Gail explains. 

Gail Sutter: The most successful programs we work with, with companies and the most successful EAPs are really integrating into that culture and are becoming a part of talking about it and having lots of different resources. If the only way you think about your EAP is that it’s that counseling service, then we find that the utilization, the comfort level is less. We want them to think about whenever I have an issue as a supervisor, “Hey, EAP” as a part of it, we want them to be comfortable talking about that. And we want them also to feel like, boy, if something comes up in our workplace, we’re very comfortable reaching out to our EAP to support us and provide the services needed. Whether that’s a traumatic situation, that’s a change in transition. Even though we’re not internal into the company, we want them to say taking care of ourselves, and part of our culture is helping us.  

Gail Sutter: I can have an H.R. person that puts up the posters all the time and sends out something. But if it isn’t something people talk about or find value in, you’re probably still going to be very limited in what your utilization is. So, we work very hard on that partnership piece, and we find that that is very helpful, and looking at also how do we have multiple access points. Whether that’s through your wellness program, that’s through your training program, so that through your H.R. programs that’s doing some training with your managers or you’re even direct line supervisors to get comfortable with us really is where it makes a difference.  

Michael Guhin: Changing a culture can seem like a huge task, so we suggest these 4 areas to focus on: Upper Management Support, Promotion, the 4 R’s of supervisor support, and stigma. 

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Michael Guhin: The first recommendation is Upper management Support. They can drive change more than any other group in an organization. Something World-Wide Technology found out when their CEO shifted their workplace culture. 

Alyssa Divjak: A few years ago, our CEO got on the mental health train along with the big movement that kind of happened a few years back.  

Michael Guhin: Alyssa Divjak is a benefits analyst at World-Wide Technology. 

Alyssa Divjak: We had a chance to talk to him about this relationship we already have with the EAP. We told him, how is this underutilized benefit, but it’s such a great resource. And from there, we were like, how can we take this to the next level? So, it really helps that our CEO preaches the message kind of from the top down.  

Michael Guhin: Without upper management that supports the EAP, nothing can happen at a meaningful level. The second way to improve utilization is to look at promotion. 

Alyssa Divjak: We kind of plug it any chance we get. I think some employees probably think it’s annoying, they’re like we get it. I would hope that 60 to 70 percent of our employees have heard of it, know of it, would know where to find the phone number at a minimum. And if they didn’t, I would hope someone around them within their team or their manager or someone could provide them with that.  

Alyssa Divjak: We have posters up in break rooms, we have brochures on countertops, resource spaces for them to grab. And a lot of times where we put stuff is on the back of a bathroom stall. Currently, everyone else is remote. We pivoted our wellness program as a whole to focus on monthly health topics and tie in different things. And with that, we started doing monthly EAP presentations. We promote all those through email, for the most part. The email is kind of like, here’s everything for the month that we want to emphasize and talk about and take what you want, leave what you don’t.  

Michael Guhin: Beyond posters and emails, managers and supervisors can also promote the EAP by simply talking about it and all the various services they provide with their employees. The third way to improve culture for utilization would be with involving supervisors and help them to know how to support employees to use EAP. 

Alyssa Divjak: All of our managers get information during new manager training about the EAP, and they get all kinds of resources for how to support their employees from all different angles.  

Michael Guhin: It’s crucial for supervisors to know how to support their employees, but more importantly to see when they need support. Gail Sutter breaks this down into what she calls the 4 R’s. 

Gail Sutter: When we talk about supervisors and how to use the program, we really talk about is what I call the four R’s. The first one is Remind. If you have employees, employees are going to have life events that go on all the time. And so I want a supervisor to be comfortable with that employee comes and says, I’ve had a death in the family that they don’t give in to providing counseling themselves, but they remind them of the resource and are very knowledgeable about the resource to talk about how to access it. The second one is where we talk about the recommend. Recommend is where maybe an employee has even come to a supervisor or the supervisor has talked to them about “I’m seeing some changes, your performance of the missing work” whatever those are, they may recommend the EAP. They may say, I really think they can help you. I know who this program is. I know it’s a good program. Here’s how it works. I’m going to recommend or strongly encourage you to reach out and use that. Then we get to the last two where it’s more what we call refer or require. Refer is when there’s a part of a performance issue and you’re saying we’re going to use EAP as an additional resource to make sure that we’re giving you every tool to be able to be successful. And then they require typically is related to a part of condition of ongoing employment. And that may be something where if there’s a positive alcohol or drug test, there’s a significant behavioral risk area. And I think we have to be comfortable using all of those. Now, what we want is we want about 90 percent to be in those first two areas where employees are accessing it because they were reminded, they’ve known about that, and about 10 percent are going to come in those other areas where we’re having to do a reactive piece versus a proactive of helping people before it creates that significant problem.  

Michael Guhin: Finally, something that can often impact utilization is stigma. This partly comes from EAP being seen as only a mental health resource, but largely from the broad negative connotation surrounding mental health. This is why stigma takes a pronounced effort to reduce. 

Alyssa Divjak: Reducing the stigma has been a journey. I mean, it has been something that we’ve been working out for the last few years. And like I said, it comes from our CEO. He’s extremely passionate about it. He is the one that’s pushing that message from the top down at his corporate update. He has not missed a beat in the last couple of years. What they have been messaging, especially over the last year, is health and safety of our employees is the number one priority. That is a forefront of what he’s preaching. Every time he gets in front of our employees, which I think is extremely important. Our VP of H.R., she was willing to share her story and she wanted people to know that sometimes it might feel as though we’re just talking the talk and we’re just saying these buzzwords. And, we want to reduce the stigma and we want you to get help with mental health. But she had a very personal story about her own struggles with mental health, and it was super emotional. And she sent that out like from her email address to the whole company during May, which was the Mental Health Awareness Month, and it really resonated with people because everyone knows her. She’s the VP and OK, well, she’s not always pushing the EAP for nothing. She actually believes in it and believes that it’s important to talk to someone and seek help when you need it. 

Gail Sutter: One of the things that is really helpful when we look at the stigma is when we start to promote it as proactive self-care, taking care of yourself versus there’s something wrong with me. Do I feel bad if I have to go to a medical doctor for an annual exam? No, nobody judges me for that. If I have, a proactive piece that I want to say, you know, I want to take care of myself, then I’m going to go to the EAP about that being proactive, self-care, taking care of myself before things become problems are huge in being seen as a positive and self-care versus there’s something wrong.  

Michael Guhin: If after analyzing utilization rates they are lower than desired, take steps to change the culture. Specifically upper management, promotion, the 4 R’s of supervisor support, and stigma. Looking at all these aspects can increase EAP usage among workers. Together, they create a workplace where EAP is a central resource for employees. 

Alyssa Divjak: We want people to feel like this is part of our culture, because it is. I think all of that combined has shown the employees the investment that we’re really putting towards their health and well-being. 

Michael Guhin: Workplace Matters is supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. To listen to more podcasts, view our ongoing video series, or for more information about us visit Healthier Workforce Center (dot) org. Thank you

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