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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Monday 18 Nov 2013
Trends in employee assistance programmes

Trends in employee assistance programmes

We aspire to make employees feel better about their employers, and over the course of the year, in our role as HR Most Influential Awards sponsor will be writing a series of articles about this from a different perspective.

As we provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), we hear plenty of issues. These range from simple "help me find childcare", through to support for those struggling with complex psychological issues.

Trends in the issues we see suggest changes in how people are dealing with their lives inside and outside of work. These include:

A rise in marital dispute questions: An increased number of people are asking for support and information about how they might separate. This will clearly lead to stress outside the workplace, thereby impact around focus in the workplace. It will also heighten financial issues. Signs of both of these may be subtle, and appear more emotionally charged than normal.

A rise in workplace stress: Many companies have recently been in tactical cost-cutting modes. You would expect recent growth within the UK particularly to be wholly positive, but interestingly, we see a different side. Demand increases are driving more activity within companies, but employment levels in mid and senior management continue to reduce. We are also seeing more radical corporate change agendas (bigger restructurings or acquisitions). Both of these are placing higher burdens on fewer key people.

Women being more open in asking for help: Around two-thirds of the people who use our services are female. In contrast, the working populations we cover are more evenly split between the genders. Men are less frequent users of EAP, and when they do contact us, the issues have often become deeper and more difficult. Finding ways to support both populations, but in different ways will help.

More complex issues: We are finding the people we deal with often have several issues that, only when put together, have tipped them into crisis. These issues often span their personal life and the workplace, and each one individually is not serious. Again, in the workplace, we can see this in unusual reactions to seemingly simple requests.

So, what's the impact of employees not feeling good in the workplace? In our own organisation, we have measured clear correlations between colleague engagement, absence, customer satisfaction and customer retention. Being clear about the link between supporting employees and commercial results is crucial to tying action to results, and critical to have the board-room tools to argue your case.

Helping people to avoid these things, is not only good for them, it's good for their employer as well. So, let's be clear on what we should be looking for, as early signs of future problems impact on people's presence, attitude, engagement, focus, productivity; and revenue.

Nick Laird (pictured) is chief commercial officer at Ceridian UK