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Employee Assistance Programme proposal

EAP and Workplace health and safety programmes

DRAFT 14 August 2018 – Background

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) serve organizations and their employees in multiple ways, ranging from consultation at the strategic level about issues with organization-wide implications to individual assistance to employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties. As workplace programs, the structure and operation of each EAP varies with the structure, functioning, and needs of the organization(s) it serves.

In general, an EAP is a set of professional services specifically designed

·         to improve and/or maintain the productivity and healthy functioning of the workplace and to address a work organization’s business needs through the application of specialized knowledge and expertise about human behaviour and mental health. 

·         More specifically, an EAP is a workplace program designed to assist:

o   work organizations in addressing productivity issues, and

o   employees in identifying and resolving personal concerns, including health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress, or other personal issues that may affect job performance (EAPA, 2017).

In New Zealand The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and related regulations apply to PCBUs, employees and contractors in the workplace.

The Act and related regulations require that workers and others are given the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes risks to both physical and mental health.

Organisations must provide appropriate training and information for workers so that they can work safely. Many organisations provide additional training and benefits as part of a health and safety or wellness programme (Employment NZ, 2017).  The opportunity to work in the workplace wellbeing space is developing and one example of this is an employee assistance programme

Employee Assistance Programmes

Many employers have employee assistance programmes (also known as EAP) to provide free and confidential counselling and support to employees. The counselling may be general or may be specific, for example, budgeting advice or CV writing skills. Organisations often offer EAP to their employees as part of their wider health and safety programme or as part of a managing diversity initiative.  There are currently several large players in the New Zealand market including:  EAP Services, EAP Works, and Vitae.

EAP is not usually restricted to work issues, because issues in a person’s home life can have an impact on their relationships, health and productivity at work. Being able to refer staff to EAP (if it is needed by an employee) is useful for managers as part of managing an employee’s performance or misconduct, as other problems in their life can be a contributing factor to issues arising in the workplace. Many organisations offer EAP during workplace change, even if they do not have a continuing EAP programme, as this can be a particularly stressful time for employees. Sometimes employees can refer themselves directly, sometimes they need to go through a contact person in their organisation. Some organisations limit the number of sessions per issue, or sessions per person (Employment NZ, 2017).  Three sessions provided on a free basis appears to be customary practice.

There are different options for organisations to provide EAP to staff including:

·         contracting a single EAP provider and paying a set fee based on the number of employees in the organisation. The advantage of this is that the employer doesn’t know who is using the service, so employees can feel that their use of the service is completely confidential.

·         contracting a single EAP provider and paying per session. This can be done more confidentially if the employee can go through a designated contact person in the organisation, so the person’s name can be protected.

·         contracting with specific providers as and when needed. The advantage of this is that specialist providers can be used, targeting the person and their specific situation. If a designated contact person is used within the organisation, this will assist with the protection of the person’s name. If they prefer not to disclose their issue, they can still be referred to a general provider.

Employers, managers, supervisors and team leaders can also access support when faced with an employee who has work problems but has not responded to normal supervision (EAP services Ltd, 2017).

Examples of potential EAP referrals include, but are not limited to the following:

·      Stress and pressure – personal or work.

·      Depression and anxiety.

·      Workplace issues and changes.

·      Bullying and harassment support.

·      Anger and conflict issues.

·      Relationship and family matters.

·      Grief and loss.

·      Life transition and personal development.

·      Health and wellbeing.

·      Career planning.

·      Budgeting and financial assistance.

·      Personal legal advice (EAP services Ltd, 2017).

Occupational therapists are in a unique position to provide EAP services by utilising the occupational performance model to consider the person – their occupations – what they want to, must or are expected to do, their environment – supports and barriers, and their individual strengths, values, abilities, beliefs and culture.  Utilising this framework and evidence based practices such as ACT or CBT and / or motivational interviewing will assist in working alongside the employee to coach them and quickly develop an action strategy to move them forward towards the things that are important to them.  Therefore, assisting both the employee and the employer / organisation.

Historically, EAP services have been provided by counsellors, however there appears to be no legislation, policy or best practice framework that dictates this is necessary.  If Occupational Therapists apply their skills and knowledge in the corporate work site, they could use their skills to intervene before the issue results in increased absenteeism as a physical or mental health issue (Maynard, 1986).  This can only be positive for the employee and the employer. 


https://www.employment.govt.nz/workplace-policies/health-and-safety-at-work/ retrieved 19.12.17

http://www.eapassn.org/About/About-Employee-Assistance/EAP-Definitions-and-Core-Technology retrieved 19.12.17

https://www.eapservices.co.nz/news/ retrieved 19.12.17