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Guide to Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)

Why are companies concerned that some members of their staff might have mental health, low self-esteem, problems at home or even have a major debt problem?

If someone has a “proper” illness or a “real” injury you can understand it, you can probably see it. By Mike Conlan Wellbeing Manager at BT.

Most of us have choices and most of us are connected to very fast, immediate, mobile technology. It’s not often that I reflect on life these days. Too busy on my work computer, home laptop, tablet, smartphone and probably a watch soon….

Weirdly, choices bring stress. The ability to be in touch with everything and everybody brings stress. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc….And in between we play Candy crush or Minecraft. The cost of children’s toys, Xmas presents, holidays, technology, better stuff – all on our credit cards. And you can pay for things by simply tapping your credit card onto that credit card thingy. Easy to spend – difficult to pay. And (ok, great charity) but apparently we all need to do the Water Bucket challenge. Sudden illness, injury or bereavement can totally change your life quite suddenly. I’m sure you get the picture – lots of stress. So yep, a world full of choices for many of us and conversely a (water) bucket-load of stress.

By now, you’re waiting for the good news. Lots of choices of course gives us loads of opportunities, freedom, things to do, places to see. You can improve your skills, do stuff you’ve never done before, meet your soul mate, you can build a great life. So to the point of this article – EAP – BT’s Employee Assistance Programme. In BT, (hopefully not, but) it might surprise you, we realised a while back that if you look after your people, they look after you. Simple premise – but not all companies get this. I’m proud to work for BT and I’m very proud that we do our best to look after our people.

I’ve used the EAP as a manager and also as an individual going through a tough phase in my life. We ALL have breaking points, we’re human beings and we are all flawed. What’s interesting though is that when we are able to get through the other side of these break points we can sometimes try new opportunities and excel in unexpected stuff. Not always the case of course – but probably more times than you think. I’m now a big fan of Employee Counselling. I come from a classic working-class background (brought up by great parents) and had that “manly” thing that told me in my head I could cope with anything. I was wrong. 

I’m now, I guess, middle class and possibly metrosexual. I have a brilliant, beautiful wife, no debt, great job (most of the time) and a pretty good life. What’s not to like? Oh well, I’m going to have to mention it – I’ve got a mild form of Multiple sclerosis (MS). Most days I’m absolutely fine & I’m an organised person so I try not to waste energy. There are occasional times when there are some “smoke & mirrors” involved to give the impression I’m firing on all cylinders– but I suspect that’s true of all of us & not just me. I know I’ve got a great life and I know I should feel grateful. People are being hurt for no logical reason across the world whilst I’m writing this and I shouldn’t get down at times. There’s no obvious logic to it and I’m not suggesting I have depression. Just sometimes I get really down – it just happens.

Ok so where am I going with this?

The truth is using EAP can be a game-changer. Frankly, when I needed help, it was a game-changer for me. Ok, I also saw the doctor as well and had to take a month’s sick leave; I saw our Occupational Health people, used some cognitive behavioural therapy & talked to family & friends. But looking back, EAP was the trigger for me to make a change & be honest about how I was dealing (poorly) with things at that time.

In my (latest) role for BT, as an Inclusion & Wellbeing Practitioner, I’ve got to know the EAM (Employee Assistance Management) team. They recently moved from Accenture back into BT. I’m also working with them on another project. The big thing that (unsurprisingly) comes across is that they care about people (a lot) and they know what they’re talking about. A tangible example of this is when we have a Team Event they remain available via their mobiles to make sure they offer the best possible immediate service.

So the starting point was “why do companies care about our mental health, our day-to-day problems, whether we’re heavily in debt or suffered a bereavement”. I’m not going to bore you with stats – just look on the internet for the sick leave figures for mental health absence, the countless organisations offering mental health support and advice, debt advice, the many stories of suicide or attempted suicide – you might be shocked. Ok and we know some people are not genuine – but most will be. Sick Leave, erratic attendance patterns, lack of productivity due to poor health are MASSIVE costs to any business. On top of this loss of skills, lost time, recruitment costs can all add to the cost to a business.

Ok so here’s the spiel about EAP

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have been shown to have very real benefits for both organisations and individuals.  Supporting the wellbeing of your people in a practical way can lessen the impact of a problem and the knock-on effect it can have on performance at work. EAPs provide a range of services, notably employee counselling, but also legal advice, help on dealing with debts and general financial advice. BT's EAP includes a comprehensive range of personal and group services to help our people deal with worrying or difficult situations.  It is entirely free of charge for BT employed users. We don’t cover every country that we have a presence in – but cover quite a few. We’re also looking at whether we could cover all or most of the countries we work in – but early days on this.

No problem is too big or too small to bring to the EAP, and it’s completely confidential. Our BT staff can contact the EAP 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, so help is available whenever it’s needed. So, if you’re a company out there with no Employee Assistance Programme & spiralling staff costs because of sick leave, loss of skills and lost time you might want to think about providing EAP?

It’s your call!

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