Employee Assistance Programs: what are they and do I need one?

October 20, 2023
FCB Workplace Law

Did you know that employers are obligated by law to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all employees?

This obligation doesn’t just include physical health, it extends to mental health as well. In recent years, the focus has shifted to place employee mental health squarely in the spotlight as an important issue for employers to be across. This focus has concurrently inspired efforts to destigmatise mental health issues, especially in the workplace.

Burnout, stress, and anxiety are just some of the mental health issues employees could be dealing with behind closed doors. So how can your business ensure it has the right support structures in place? Services such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) could make all the difference in combatting these kinds of psychological risks. In this article I deep dive into what an EAP is and why your business should consider adopting this service.

What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free work-based support program aimed at enhancing the emotional, mental, and psychological well-being of all employees. An EAP service allows employees to access external professional mental health support that can assist with personal or work-related problems, which can adversely impact performance and employee well-being.

This means that whether an employee is experiencing ordinary work stress, relationship concerns, issues with a particular colleague, burnout or some other health condition, to name a few examples, counselling services via EAP can help.

EAP services are also available to employees and their immediate families and may be accessible in person, via telephone, or through video conferencing. Some EAP providers may even offer live chat messaging as an alternative.

Importantly, these services are designed to be 100 per cent anonymous and confidential so those who access them can do so without fear of judgement or repercussion.

Why should I offer this program to my employees?

After a tough couple of years managing financial difficulties, staff shortages, increased workloads, and heightened general risk as a product of the COVID-19 pandemic, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that employees are suffering from burnout at a higher rate than ever before. A report from 2022 revealed that 46 per cent of Australian workers have admitted to suffering from burnout – an 8 per cent increase from 2021.

Prevention is the end goal, but the journey towards that involves working to reduce the impacts of burnout on employees. This should be a key focus for business owners, including spotting any early warning signs and ensuring that your people know where they can access support. Implementing an EAP in your business is an essential step in this process.

Increased job satisfaction, improved staff retention, staff engagement, and productivity, and decreased absenteeism are just some of the many benefits of promoting mental health and investing in employee well-being.

What can my business do to create and maintain a safe and inclusive workplace?

Whether it’s working to reduce the stigma or encouraging employees to effectively unwind and switch off, employers must ensure they create and maintain a safe and inclusive workplace for all staff. This involves removing or otherwise managing the risk of discrimination in the workplace, including against any employee who may be experiencing health, including mental health, conditions (also recognised as disability). The failure to do so may otherwise result in a claim of disability discrimination or general protections (discrimination).

If this information has raised any further questions, or you have another matter you need advice on, please reach out to the team at FCB for a confidential discussion. You can call us on 02 9922 5188 or email us at info@fcbgroup.com.au .

Authored by Brigitta Poulos
Brigitta Poulos is a Workplace Relations Consultant with HR Assured (FCB’s sister company) who loves helping clients and businesses achieve excellent workplace compliance with their obligations and duties, by way of interpretation of relevant employment legislation and awards. She particularly enjoys researching and explaining new or ‘hot’ topics in the workplace relations and human resources fields to our clients.