Transforming employee assistance programmes for efficacy

09 March 2016 Liane McGowan, Happy Monday
Liane McGowan, Happiness Guru and Founder of Happy Monday.

Liane McGowan, Happiness Guru and Founder of Happy Monday.

Employee wellness has become synonymous with medical aid health drives and a few annual engagement opportunities. While those activities certainly have their place in employee engagement, their benefits are limited by a singular, compartmentalised focus, and a once-off “be happy” command. Humans are complex, intricate beings. Once management teams fully grasp this, true engagement, wellness and workplace happiness can be achieved.

The current Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which offers counselling to employees that are experiencing personal problems, attempts to fill the “mental wellness” gap in employee health, but it is simply not effective. This is the model that most wellness providers utilise to engage employees, but workplace (and Monday) blues, infighting, low productivity and high staff turnover are giving a clear message; the business world and those that drive it (the employees) are in desperate need of something new.

Although most employee assistance programmes date back to the 1960s, the current EAP model was developed between the 70s and 80s, and has been the standard basis for all present-day employee programmes in corporate South Africa since. Over the past decade, however, the success of the EAP been questioned, with various apt criticisms arising. Resultantly, a path has been forged for a new and more beneficial, proactive approach to employee wellness to develop. While the EAP still exists as the benchmark for employee wellness in South Africa, it is no longer enough and should certainly not be considered the way forward when it comes to implementing effective campaigns.

One of the concerns raised about the EAP is that it is too reactive. Employers or counsellors are not incentivised to drive uptake, or proactively check-in on employee wellness; they simply wait for problems to arise and try to resolve issues after the fact. In certain instances, where employees are struggling with substance abuse, for example, they do not trust the EAP counsellors as they believe revealing their struggles will lead to their constructive dismissal. These programmes also offer nothing new to inspire employees, resulting in low levels of compliance and low utilisation level; meaning that the return on investment and the return on objectives are non-existent.

The key is to develop programmes that follow the principles of an Holistic Wellness Initiative (HWI), and to do so consistently throughout the year. The HWI was developed by Inside Active and Happy Monday CC, to meet the need for a proactive and successful approach to employee wellness. It is no longer good enough to provide access to physical wellness benefits and disregard the far more important need for a fully mentally and physically functioning South African workforce.

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