With 1 in 7 experiencing mental health problems at work, the relationship between employee wellbeing and the workplace has never been so important.

An employee’s experience can have an impact on their mental wellbeing. Equally, an employee’s emotional resilience can be interlinked with their workplace performance and how individuals handle certain situations, particularly if working under pressure.

It’s imperative there are steps in place for employees to feel supported and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) – offering free confidential counselling to employees – could be the missing piece in workplace wellbeing strategies.

#1 Prevention is better than cure

Mental wellbeing in the workplace should not be pushed to the side lines, particularly in a small business which relies on the productivity of a limited number of employees.

Most of us spend a large proportion of our time at work, so employers are in a position of responsibility when it comes to protecting their staff’s mental health. However, it can be difficult to justify financial investment when so many areas are competing for resources.

When used effectively, EAPs can act as the first line of defence when an employee is suffering psychologically. In fact, new data analysis by Unum UK highlights the value of such programmes: 92 percent using its LifeWorks EAP saw their mental health improve after receiving confidential counselling.

Early disclosure can enable people to find their way to calmer times without the need for health service involvement, and EAPs provide staff the opportunity to reach out to professionals on their own terms.

#2 Increase disclosure

Presenteeism – when employees are unwell, but still come into work – is estimated to decrease productivity levels by at least one third, costing businesses much more than its counter-part, absenteeism.

This often occurs when employees lack the confidence to disclose a health issue to their employer, fearing it will negatively impact their career or they’ll be treated differently.

EAPs can really help SMEs in these situations, by supporting individuals in developing effective strategies to build their own emotional resilience, both in their personal and professional lives.

It may also empower staff to confide in managers who can assist them in making the necessary adjustments to improve their work routine during difficult times.

#3 Stand out from the crowd

As a small business, it can sometimes be difficult to stand out from the crowd and attract those applications from top candidates who are looking for benefits beyond just salary, like health and wellbeing offerings.

However, EAPs can enhance your company’s profile, as they demonstrate your company cares about employee welfare. From a cost perspective, showing employees your company invests in wellbeing can also reduce staff turnover and its associated costs.

If you’ve put in the investment but uptake remains minimal, try re-evaluating your communication methods. Be clear in the use of language and distribute updates and regular reminders about the benefits on offer to increase buy-in.

#4 Get a clearer picture

Despite 67 percent of organisations offering an EAP as part of their health and wellbeing programme, only a small number (9 percent) of HR Managers make an evaluation of EAP outcomes.

However, it’s important to use available data on EAP usage, absences and staff turnover. This will ensure you have a clearer picture of the complexity of both mental and physical health issues in your workforce, which employees are most at risk and what is required to support them.

For example; Unum UK’s data on EAP usage among its customers shows 58 percent of callers to EAP provider “Lifeworks” in 2016/17 were female and 70 percent called for help related to their mental health. Delving deeper into the data, 66 percent of these callers were experiencing anxiety or depression.

Having access to such insights allows companies to put in place the right proactive and reactive tactics to enable employees to strengthen their emotional and financial resilience before issues start to escalate.


By Liz Walker, HR director, Unum UK

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