Mental health conditions are a significant and growing issue that impact people, organisations and communities worldwide. In Australia, up to 45% of people between the ages of 16 and 85 will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime (ABS, 2007). It is estimated that the impact of these mental health conditions are costing Australian workplaces approximately $10.9 billion per year. This comprises $4.7 billion in absenteeism, $6.1 billion in presenteeism (when an employee comes to work but is less productive due to illness) and $146 million in compensation claims (ABS, 2007).
Mental health conditions occur in all industries, although some industries (particularly essential services, information media and telecommunication, financial and insurance services) have a higher prevalence (PwC, 2014). To maximise productivity employers should understand the importance and benefits of investing in a healthy workplace that promotes both mental and physical well-being for all employees (PwC, 2014).
What is an EAP?
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored intervention programs designed to enhance emotional, mental and general psychological well-being of all employees. EAPs were originally designed as alcoholism programs, however in the early 1970’s the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse noted that apart from misuse of alcohol, deterioration in job performance could also be related to other personal problems. Thus, EAPs were broadened to address all types of personal problems, including family and mental health problems that affect job performance (Roman, 1981).
The goal of EAPs is to provide preventative and proactive interventions for the identification and resolution of both work and personal problems that may be affecting an employee’s work performance and general well-being. EAPs can help with issues including but not limited to:
- Work related issues: work performance, career related issues, stress management and burnout, decision making, problem solving, motivational issues and dealing with bullying or workplace harassment.
- Personal issues: depression, anxiety, grief and loss, personal development, self-esteem, anger management, financial problems, gambling and other addictions, substance abuse, trauma and health issues.
- Family and relationship issues: divorce and separation issues, communication problems, domestic violence, intimacy issues, generational differences, parenting and conflict resolution.
Impact of mental health issues on work productivity
The impact of not addressing mental health conditions has resulted in Australian employers losing over $10 billion a year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and workers’ compensation claims (PwC, 2014). A study of employees conducted by TNS Social Research found that 21% of employees reported taking time off work due to feeling mentally unwell in the past 12 months. The study also found that of the 85 business leaders surveyed, 81% indicated that their workplace had one or more policies or procedures in place to support mental health. However, 35% of their employees stated that they were unaware of these procedures or did not have access to them (TNS, 2014).
What’s more, WorkCover Queensland has reported that over 3700 mental health claims were made in the 2014/15 financial year and over $45 million in compensation was paid out. On average, workers with mental health claims took 91 days off work, which is over three times longer than any other injury recovery timeframe (TNS, 2014).
What are the benefits of an EAP?
Businesses and management teams who express the importance of addressing mental health issues are more likely to influence the behaviour and attitude of employees dealing with mental health problems. Workplaces that convey an understanding and compassionate attitude towards mental health will find that their employees will feel more comfortable discussing their concerns with their manager. Awareness about mental health issues that could impact on work quality, productivity and safety can help prevent workplace incidents from occurring.
Businesses that focus on creating a mentally healthy work environment can benefit from a reduction in work related injuries, illnesses and absenteeism, greater staff engagement and productivity, reduced staff turnover, recruitment and costs. Businesses can even earn profit from investing in employee’s mental health. A recent study analysed the return on investment for employers investing in a mentally healthy workplace and found that businesses can earn a $2.30 return on investment for every dollar they spend on managing mental health (PwC, 2014).
Providing access to the psychological services provided within EAPs demonstrates to employees that their employer values their well-being and a mentally healthy work environment. EAPs provide employees with a professional and confidential psychological service to help them resolve their individual, marital and job related problems. By helping to manage and prevent mental health issues in the workplace, EAPs can be beneficial for employees and their families as well as employers and their businesses.
How to access EAPs?
EAPs vary and can be tailored to different employee needs and work environments. The first step to take is to ask your employer or Human Resources department if your workplace has an EAP in place. Some workplaces will require an employee to be approved by a manager to use the service, other workplaces will provide brochures or online access for employees to access the service independently as needed. Employees are provided with a set number of sessions (usually between 3 and 6 sessions) per year and some workplaces even provide additional sessions for employees family members. The service is voluntary and confidential, with information remaining private unless the employee has given permission to disclose to a third party.
There is a complex and interwoven relationship between mental health and the workplace when it comes to the development of mental health issues and the factors contributing to maintenance. Workplaces may contribute to the development or worsening of mental health issues though factors such as organisational change, job strain, job dissatisfaction and traumatic events. However, employment can also act as a protector against the development of some mental health issues. For example, work can be a place where an employee feels valued and has a sense of accomplishment and/or where they can get support to deal with other things going on in their life. Investing in employee mental health can go a long way in creating a mentally health workplace and increasing productivity and profits.
If you would like to know more about how Employee Assistance Programs work or would like to introduce one to your organisation please contact our office on 1800 877 924.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2007). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Australian Government: Canberra, ACT.
PwC. (2014). Creating a mentally healthy workplace: Return on investment analysis. Retrieved on 13.11.15 from http://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/beyondblue_workplaceroi_finalreport_may-2014.pdf
Roman, P. M. (1981). From employee alcoholism to employee assistance. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 42, 244-272.
TNS. (2014). The State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia. Retrieved on 13.11.15 from https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report—tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8