4 Reasons why SMEs should invest in an Employee Assistance Programme

stressed female employee

1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives and the UK Government is taking this statistic seriously, recommending all companies with more than 500 employees should provide tailored mental health support for their staff.

But what about smaller businesses? With millions of small businesses in the UK, making sure these businesses are equipped to support the mental and physical wellbeing of their staff is essential for keeping the majority of the working population healthy.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) – confidential workplace counselling services – can be an effective tool for small businesses but are often missing from smaller workplace wellbeing strategies.

Investing in an EAP can bring real business benefits. To outline where you can expect a return, here are 4 reasons every SME should consider introducing an Employee Assistance Programme;

1. The first line of defence

Most businesses, both large and small, care about the wellbeing of their staff but it can be difficult to rationalise investment when so many other areas of the business are competing for a slice of the budget pie.

However, when used correctly, EAPs can act as the first line of defence when an employee starts to experience personal challenges, helping to build emotional resilience into your workforce from the very start.

EAPs offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support individuals with a whole range of areas causing emotional distress, from family issues, financial insecurity to work-related problems, addiction and mental illness.

They can limit the impact of mental health issues on the individual employee, co-workers and the business before problems escalate or return.

New data analysis by Unum UK highlights the value of such programmes too; 92 percent using its Employee Assistance Programme, offered by LifeWorks, felt their mental health improved after receiving confidential counselling.

2. Minimise presenteeism

In a perfect world, employees would separate their personal experiences from their professional lives. In reality, many workers spend their days worrying over untold personal matters, which can reduce their effectiveness and put a strain on productivity levels.

In fact, according to the UK Centre for Mental Health, the issue of presenteeism – when employees continue to attend work, even though they are feeling mentally or physically unwell – cost UK employers a combined £21.2 billion in 2016 alone in lost productivity.

This is because not all employees experiencing personal issues will have the confidence to disclose this to their employer, fearing it will negatively impact career progression or they’ll be treated differently to co-workers.

While it’s never ideal for an organisation, particularly a small business or start-up, to be operating at a lower headcount, employees should feel comfortable enough to seek the assistance they need. Presenteeism denies the employee time to recover, meaning a period of ill-health can be stretched out even more.

EAPs can really help small businesses in these situations, as they provide an avenue for seeking appropriate help. They aid employees in making decisions to improve their wellbeing, whether that’s through taking time off work, being referred to a financial or addiction specialist, or simply getting some practical advice on how to achieve a better work-life balance.

Small business owners, should also try to model behaviour and sentiment to encourage employees to use accrued sick time and benefits when they’re feeling under the weather.

If you’re constantly showing up for work under the weather, you’re setting a bad example for your workers. Take care of yourself, so your employees will model your positive example of wellness.

3. A competitive workforce

Wellbeing isn’t just imperative for business productivity, it’s also a major factor in attracting the best new recruits in an increasingly competitive jobs market.

Many candidates now look beyond just salary when making important career choices, especially as health and wellbeing offerings become more common.

Getting this right can make or break a small business and – if you are strategic with your offerings – your job offer could stand out from the crowd, even when compared with much larger corporations.

Make sure to include a value statement and any information about what you offer on your website and any recruitment literature, to show your business takes employee wellbeing seriously.

EAPs are not only a financially sound investment to support, they can engage and develop staff when compared to the high costs of turnover and stress claims.

View them as a part of your retention strategy, placing employees front and centre in achieving sustainable high performance.

If you’ve put in the investment but uptake remains low, you should readdress your communication methods. Breaking information down into manageable chunks and sending out regular reminders about the services on offer to your employees should increase buy-in, our research shows.

You could always collaborate with your third-party providers, who often have representatives able to do on-site visits to explain to staff how their services work and how to get the most out of them. They’re also likely to have helpful resources like posters, interactives and video guides on their websites which can be shared.

4. Data insight

EAPs can be a good way for businesses to get real insight into the issues impacting their employees.

Businesses who make the effort to track such internal data can achieve valuable insights into the concerns bothering employees, which enables them to create clearer mental health strategies, to better support employees in the future.

For example; looking at Unum UK’s own data on LifeWorks EAP use among its customers, 58 percent of callers in 2016/17 were female and 70 percent called for help related to their mental health. Delving deeper into the data, 66 percent of these callers were experiencing anxiety or depression.

Using such insights helps us to know the employees at most risk and allows us to put in place the right proactive and reactive strategies to help businesses in supporting specific employees with strengthening their emotional and financial resilience.

With today’s “always-on” culture, the line between personal and work-life is becoming increasingly blurred. Investing wisely in workplace wellbeing programmes is a win-win for both employers and employees.

Businesses need to focus on the human element of their organisation to increase the chances of a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Liz Walker, HR Director, Unum UK. In her time at Unum, Liz has spearheaded work to remove the stigma of mental health in the workplace and actively works to help raise awareness of mental health as an asset and an integral part of a holistic health and wellbeing strategy.

More help from ByteStart

ByteStart is packed with help on all aspects of starting and running your own successful business, some other popular guides include;

Motivating your team

Employing staff

Employment Law

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