Many companies invest heavily in a high-quality Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – as they should. EAPs are extremely important in the overall support structure any employer offers their workforce.
“An EAP, or employee assistance program, is a confidential, short term, counselling service for employees with personal problems that affect their work performance. EAPs grew out of industrial alcoholism programs of the 1940’s. EAPs should be part of a larger company plan to promote wellness that involves written policies, supervisor and employee training, and, where appropriate, an approved drug testing program.” Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
However, many EAPs are often under-utilized. As outlined in a 2017 Workforce.com article: “EAPs are valuable but underused. Utilization rates for EAPs in North America are less than 7 percent, according to one report. Employers are telling their workers: Use your EAP or lose it.”
What does stigma have to do with it?
There is one unique way to improve the utilization, and therefore the impact, of your EAP: eliminating mental illness stigma from your workplace. The reason eliminating stigma can make your EAP stronger is rooted in one of the most dangerous side effect of stigma: the shame and fear that leads to those facing mental illness not seeking help. When mental illnesses are ‘swept under the rug’ and individuals try to simply ‘soldier on’ and do nothing, most often they worsen.
This has been backed by research. In the research paper How Perceptions of Mental Illness Impact EAP Utilization, published by J. McCree in the National Institutes of Health and the US National Library of Medicine, the author states:
“For both employers and EAPs, addressing the impact of stigma and perceptions of mental illness is costly, requiring greater direct employee engagement and education. However, it is a more effective means of increasing EAP use than current practices and, ultimately, can result in significantly higher net gains in productivity while reducing employers’ direct costs.”
Creating a Stigma-Free Workplace Culture
In a stigma-free workplace culture, however, mental illness will be seen for what it is: an illness, not a character flaw, and not the fault of the person affected. This attitude will increase proactive efforts to seek help, including the kind of therapy and other wellness programs offered by an EAP. And that is a very good thing for companies, as their employees will not only be using their EAPs as intended, but they will be addressing their mental illness earlier. This dramatically increases the chances of a quicker recovery and return to full productivity.
There is one other perspective to consider: management’s promotion of the EAP. If managers don’t fully understand mental illness, and/or if there is a stigma towards it in your workplace, they will often not consider recommending the EAP to their employees who are struggling. With proper training around mental illness, we can eliminate stigma and create a much greater chance that positive, pro-active discussion will take place and the manager will be in a position to recommend appropriate EAP service available.
Ending stigma will make your EAP stronger
There is a strong chance that your company already invests heavily in an EAP, and that the utilization rates of your EAP leave something to be desired. That alone is a cause for action. In addition to making your EAP stronger, there are many reasons to address – and ultimately eliminate – the stigma surrounding workplace mental illness.
Founder of StigmaZero, Author & Instructor of the Create Your StigmaZero Workplace Program
I founded StigmaZero to help employers address the complex and challenging reality of mental illness stigma. We offer companies an innovative solution: our Create Your StigmaZero Workplace online program, which is designed to eliminate the negative impacts that stigma can have on your culture as well as the cost of lost productivity. This program creates real, lasting impact on your company’s ability to manage mental illness and stigma.