Are Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) truly effective for employees who are experiencing problems at work?
Someone recently asked me if I thought that Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are able to sustainably resolve work-related problems experienced by employees.
In my opinion, the answer to this question is both yes and no.
Many organizations offer EAP programs to their team members, providing them short-term access to qualified professionals. EAPs can be used to support individuals regarding challenges faced in both their personal and professional lives and are truly a wonderful resource for employees.
I’ve taken advantage of an EAP on several occasions in my life and can personally attest to how beneficial it can be to take advantage of this existing support, when it’s needed.
My own personal experience with EAPs was that they helped me learn new ways of prioritizing my own needs and relating to others. They helped me feel less stressed and resentful, both at work and in my personal life.
However, I as I worked through setting new boundaries, I was in no way expecting the significant resistance that I encountered as I attempted to shift the ways in which I related to others.
In a nutshell, more often than note, my new boundaries were not well received. People were used to me being a certain way. This met both their needs, as well as mine at the time. And some people didn’t want me to stop prioritizing their needs over mine.
One poignant memory I have is from early in my career. Half of the department I was on were on medical leave for a burnout. Our boss gathered those of us left to talk about stress management. She hired an external consultant who taught us how to ensure that we were taking care of our needs, as well as those of our clients.
This seemed like a perfect time to start asserting setting some new boundaries, a skill that I’d learned through my EAP. I later announced to my boss that I felt that I needed to very slightly decrease my client caseload. Which was met with a big fat “no chance” when I brought this up with my boss.
No matter how much I attempted to put in place limits that I needed for my own well-being, I was consistently met with resistance and refusal.
Ultimately, after long periods of trying to shift my workplace dynamics, I decided to leave the organization. It became evident to me that leadership was not ready to make the shifts to conscious communication that I needed. I eventually decided that I was better off to start somewhere new, where my new ways of setting better boundaries and relating to others would be the norm from the start.
I’m not trying to say that EAPs are bad at that they will make you employees quit.
What I am saying is that it becomes dangerous when an organization uses EAPs as a band aid solution to underlying communication problems, without also looking at what they are contributing to the challenging dynamics.
Individual interpersonal challenges are always part of a larger dynamic
Addressing interpersonal challenges within the workplace cannot rely solely on EAPs. Interpersonal challenges experienced within organizations are always part of a larger dynamic. Although it may seem that they’re created by one sole individual, they’re maintained and perpetuated by others within the organization.
EAPs can most certainly assist the individual who wants help to learn new ways of dealing with the challenges they are experiencing.
However, directing team members towards an EAP for work-related communication issues, without also looking at what is going on within the organization, puts the full onus of responsibility for the creation of healthier interaction patterns on the shoulders of one sole individual.
For true, lasting change to occur, leadership needs to be on board with addressing the workplace challenges experienced at an organizational and interpersonal level and finding a sustainable solution that meets the needs of individuals with different personalities, preferences and needs.
Although EAPs are undoubtedly helpful, they are sometimes not the full answer to the changes that need to happen within that organization to create a corporate culture where employees will feel heard and be truly satisfied in their jobs.
If you’re looking to increase employee engagement, performance and productivity and are ready to prioritize improving how individuals within your organization communicate with one another, take a look at the programs I offer.
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