One of the common challenges an organization faces if there’s some work to be done around psychological health and safety management is high absenteeism rates. When employees are struggling with their mental wellness, engagement, morale and more suffer, leading to increased sick time and disability claims. Because of the link between our minds and bodies, employees may also be taking more time than usual off for physical ailments. Mental health problems can exacerbate pre-existing physical health issues, affect the immune system and trigger headaches, gastrointestinal problems, joint pain and more.
One of the first steps I recommend to my clients is assessing awareness of the company’s EFAP, assuming the organization has one. Time and time again I hear from employees, “Oh, that’s the thing on the little blue cards, right?”, “Umm, I think our HR manager is the person you’d talk to about that”, or worse: “E.F.-what? What’s that?”
EFAP stands for Employee and Family Assistance Program. If you’ve heard the acronym “EAP”, this is the same thing – the “F” is in there now to highlight that these services are available to an employee’s spouse and dependants as well. Not all companies have an EFAP (it’s a program the employer can choose to subscribe to) but if you’re lucky enough to have access to one either through your own workplace or that of your spouse, get acquainted with it and use it! The exact services available to you will depend on the provider and specific package your employer has opted in to, so talk to your company’s HR manager to find out the details. Typically a cornerstone of the EFAP will be mental health resources such as a certain number of free sessions with a therapist. Some also offer things like access to a financial planner, legal services and more. Right now some programs have resources specific to supporting social connection, homeschooling and/or supporting your kids in online learning and coping with other challenges brought on by the pandemic. The idea behind the EFAP from the employer’s perspective is that giving employees direct access to services like this (as opposed to being added to a long waiting list) and either drastically reducing the cost or making them free employees will be able to take care of their needs, stay well and remain physically present and mentally engaged at work. There’s lots of research out there showing that EFAPs yield a great return on investment for employers. Organizations without an EFAP, with a “bare bones” package or with poor awareness of the program amongst employees tend to see significantly higher absenteeism rates.
If you’ve got an EFAP, the next step is increasing awareness. You want it to be the first thing your team members think of if they’re in need of support. Here are a few practical tips:
1. Talk about it
Touch on the EFAP in every team meeting and make a point to bring it up in informal conversations with your co-workers. Bring up specifics, not just the fact that the program exists. Don’t be afraid of overdoing it with repetition! If you eventually get to a point where employees are saying, “We know, we know; we’ve heard this a thousand times!” you’ll know you’ve accomplished your goal of improving awareness.
2. Use visuals
Putting up posters in the staff room, restrooms and any other high-traffic area you can think of is a simple but effective way to bring the program to the attention of team members. If your program provider has little cards available to be given out to employees, be sure they can be found in places around the workplace where they can be taken privately, not just on the desk of a manager or the HR office.
3. Emphasize that it’s confidential
Reiterate to employees that when they use services through the EFAP neither the employer nor anyone in the workplace knows that. The only information the employer receives is data outlining how many people have used the different services in the package – for example, 27 people used services under the mental health umbrella this month, 8 people used the legal consultation, etc. The employer tracks this to ensure the program is well utilized and that the packing they subscribe to is meeting the needs of employees.
4. Spotlight the variety of services
If your organization puts out a regular staff-wide communication (such as a monthly newsletter) start an “EFAP Spotlight” corner where a different feature of the program is featured in each issue. Employees tend to be aware only of specific threads they’ve heard of directly or used themselves, so they may be surprised to learn about the diverse services they can access. Be sure to explore the different ways employees can access the program, too. Many offer services by phone, online with an organization-specific login and password and even an app.
5. Share your story
If you’ve ever used the EFAP yourself and are comfortable sharing that with others in your workplace, this can carry a lot of weight with your co-workers. I’ve seen firsthand the impact of a leader sharing in a team meeting that when they were going through a hard time they turned to the EFAP and had a great experience. Sometimes employees are aware the program exists but it truly feels accessible when someone they know and trust discloses that they’ve used it themselves.
If you’ve found a strategy that’s helped your organization to increase awareness of your EFAP, I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Tell us about it below.
Thanks for reading, my friends! See you next time.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.