Your Workplace Has an Awesome EFAP But Hardly Anyone Uses It. Here’s Why.
One of the most commonly voiced challenges from my clients over the years has been: We’ve got a fantastic Employee Assistance Program… but utilization rates are low and disability claims are high. If your team members have access to support and they find themselves in a situation where they need a hand, why aren’t they tapping in to the EFAP? This tends to be a multi-faceted issue, but let’s chat about a few typical things your workplace can consider right off the bat.
It’s a Best-Kept Secret
It sounds too simple to be true but I hear it all the time in workplaces across the country! Sometimes employees aren’t aware they even have access to an EFAP. More often, employees have heard the acronym and they know the program exists, but they don’t know much more about it than that. Your team members need to know exactly what sorts of support they can access through the EFAP as well as how to access it. Aside from the standard 1-800 number most programs have a website through which employees can access services by using a personalized login, and many even offer Smartphone apps. Every EFAP is different depending on the package the organization has opted in to. If you’re championing employee wellness in your workplace, make sure you’re familiar with all the ins and outs of what yours offers. Here are a few key points to communicate to your team:
Specific services your EFAP offers
Methods for accessing the program
“E.F.A.P.” stands for “Employee & Family Assistance Program” – that means an employee’s spouse and any dependent children can also use it
Availability (for example, does the 1-800 number go to an automated answering service if you call outside of business hours?)
Details about what happens when you access the program (do you speak to a real live human when you call? Is there a triage process? Does the website/app offer interactive module-based programs, or is it more for reading articles and gathering information about next steps?)
How your EFAP and any extended health benefits (e.g. Blue Cross, SunLife, etc.) tie together (for example, an employee might be able to see a mental health counsellor on the EFAP’s provider list three times free of charge, and then transition to sessions for which their Blue Cross covers 80% of the counsellor’s fees)
If an employee is struggling in any way – mentally, financially, personal relationships or something else – you want them to think of their EFAP first. If you’re unsure about anything listed above, chat with an HR professional in your workplace.
Stigma Is a Barrier
Fear of judgment and/or discrimination sadly continues to be the #1 cited barrier to mental health support in Canadian workplaces as well as in the community at large. Like all facets of stigma related to mental health, the more you talk about it the more normalized it becomes. Despite measures that protect the privacy of all parties who use the EFAP, employees still sometimes question whether it’s truly confidential. Illustrative of this point, I’ve heard comments like “I’m up for a promotion – I don’t think it’s the best time for me to use the EFAP” in a number of workplaces. In a psychologically safe and healthy work environment team members are equally likely to casually share with a co-worker that they visited their doctor for a sore throat that wouldn’t go away as they are to mention they accessed the EFAP for mental health services. I always encourage anyone who’s comfortable doing so to share their experience using the EFAP. Hearing a real-life testament can make a huge difference in how employees perceive the program.
The Window Gets Missed
Most EFAP services aren’t geared toward crisis situations. Research tells us that, like most medical conditions, the earlier a person gets support or begins treatment once symptoms have begun, the better the prognosis. Mental health problems tend to develop gradually with symptoms appearing and gradually worsening over a prolonged period of time. We tend to adjust our sense of “normal” and sometimes just getting through the day is tough enough without the added stress of trying something new and foreign. In many cases people have every intention to make the call but feel too overwhelmed to actually take that first step, or it ends up getting put off again and again. Have you ever meant to make a dental appointment and ended up kicking yourself for forgetting to call until you had a throbbing toothache? We need to understand how easily that can happen when a person’s already struggling with their mental health. Promote the EFAP as a non-threatening first step and emphasize that there’s no problem too small to warrant tapping in to the program.
Now that you have an idea of things that may be playing a part in low utilization rates, how can you address the issues? I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the average person has to be exposed to the same information seven times (SEVEN! TIMES!) before completely internalizing and processing it… so don’t be afraid of repeating yourself when it comes to communicating information about the EFAP. Remember, making sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight so you’ll need to exercise patience and perseverance. With time and consistency, your team members will be better supported than ever in addition to the positive impact on your organization’s bottom line and reputation as an employer.
Thank you for reading! See you next week.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to keynote speaking and corporate training on workplace 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.