Understanding Employee Assistance Programs

As mental health concerns become more prevalent in Australia, so does the need for professional support in the workplace. Confidential counselling could be available through your employer, at no cost to you.

Mental health is an increasing concern in Australia. The 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 20% of Australians had experienced a mental disorder in the year previous. Statistics such as these come as no surprise as more and more of us feel the pressure to balance our work and home lives. As a result, It’s becoming increasingly important for employers of choice to provide support in this area.

One way this is being done is by the provision of employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs provide free short-term counselling services to support employees through challenging personal and professional situations. EAPs are provided voluntarily by employers and are confidential. EAPs can also be available to immediate family, though this may differ with each employer.

Not only does an employer benefit by providing such support for their employees to improve wellbeing, it’s also financially beneficial. A study conducted by Paul J Flanagan & Jeffrey Ots concluded that a company gains 5.74 times their EAP investment in improved productivity.

How does it work?

If your employer offers EAP, it will likely be contracting a third party organisation that specialises in the provision of counselling under the EAP umbrella. An internal policy document will specify the number of sessions available to you and the ways to contact the provider to make your first appointment (usually by phone; sometimes by an online form).

When you first make contact, the EAP provider takes your details and a brief overview as to why you’re seeking support. The first one-on-one appointment is made and subsequent appointments (if required) are set at the initial appointment. Sessions are usually about an hour long.

At your session, your counsellor can assist you to:

  • clarify problems;
  • identify options; and
  • develop strategies to approach difficult issues in a constructive manner.

If you need to make your appointment during work hours, you’ll need to refer to your own employer’s EAP policy, or perhaps your human resources department to determine if this needs to come out of your leave entitlements.

What about my privacy?

You might be worried that your employer is going to find out that you’re accessing EAP, or why. That’s completely normal, and thankfully — you don’t have to worry! Your employer won’t find out that you’re accessing EAP unless you decide to tell them yourself.

Margaret from the Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australia (EAPAA) explains that no personally identifiable information is provided by the EAP provider to your employer. “All that is provided to an employer is the reason for the referral — perhaps anxiety, bullying or addiction — and the number of sessions accessed”, she says.

How do I find out if there’s an EAP available to me?

Sometimes it can be tricky to find out if your employer provides an EAP. Check the intranet, your orientation pack, or the staff handbook to see if there is a mention of an EAP. You may need to check with your human resources department, your manager or someone else you trust in the office.

Remember that EAPs are there to help you, so don’t be afraid to use them. No problem is too big or too small. Counselling can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons, and your employer is making it freely available — so why not take advantage?

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