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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


Are employers legally required to offer Employee Assistance Programs?

Workplace Health and Safety legislation in Australia requires employers to provide a safe work environment that protects worker’s physical and mental health. While employers are not legally required to offer Employee Assistance Programs, they do have a legal responsibility to provide a psychologically safe workplace, and a duty of care and ethical responsibility to positively promote mental health. And there is an abundance of evidence proving that EAPs are an effective mental health tool for employees and employers alike. So why wouldn’t you provide this service to your staff?

An EAP is a confidential counselling service offered to employees and their families, who are seeking assistance with work stressors or conflicts, relationship issues, financial concerns, anxiety or any other issue, which has the potential to affect wellbeing.

With one in five employees in Australia suffering from poor mental health, the combined cost of absenteeism, presenteeism and psychological workers compensation claims, cost Australian businesses close to $11 billion annually.  So whatever the initial cause of the problem, employers need to recognise and respond to psychological risk factors, and put in place effective measures to minimise physiological harm and promote positive mental health.

EAPs can assist employees:

  • Learn how to deal with issues and receive coping strategies to manage these issues before they become a bigger problem
  • Get immediate access to help when stressors build up and escalate, resulting in a potentially critical incident
  • Assist employees feel supported by their employer and understand that their mental health and wellbeing is important
  • Provide assistance to those who may not be able to afford it
  • Improve productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism, by managing their issues in a proactive way
  • Stay at work or return to work sooner than if they had no help

EAPs can assist employers:

  • Provide a positive impact on business profits with better productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism – a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study showed that for every $1 spent on mental health initiatives, they receive a return on investment of $2.30 (more for gas, electricity, water, residential, commercial, construction and waste service industries)
  • To take a proactive role in promoting WHS practices, reducing risk and achieving a healthier work environment
  • To meet WHS obligations by protecting workers against harm to their mental health
  • Improve staff retention with happier, healthier employees who feel valued within their work community

For many Australian businesses an Employee Assistance Program is already an integral part of their mental health and WHS strategy. But for those who haven’t yet adopted this approach, it’s important to understand that pressures at home and pressures at work go hand in hand, and affect all areas of our lives without proper intervention.  For the best chance at creating a positive mental health environment at work, contact Work Options to discuss how our Employee Assistance Program can assist you.

Related reading:
An Employee Assistance Program Story
When stress in the workplace becomes a bigger issue
The role of an EAP in improving staff performance

Mental Health Audit: how mentally healthy is your workplace?

Mental health in the workplace is fast becoming an important issue for managers and supervisors, and can be a challenging  topic to manage. In Australia, it is estimated that one in five employees will be suffering from some form of mental health issue, which is often associated with high personal and economic costs; in fact, it is one of the main reasons for reduced work performance, absenteeism and presenteeism. Poor mental health in the workplace is too significant to ignore.

Consider these questions to determine how mentally healthy your workplace really is:

Does you workplace:

    1. Have a detailed, promoted and enforced Mental Health Policy in place?
    2. Have senior managers who are actively involved in mental health promotion, encouraging a good level of workplace communication around psychological health and safety promotion?
    3. Include mental health resources and educational materials in the staff recruitment and induction process?
    4. Provide mental health education and first aid training to employees to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce stigma and better overall mental health?
    5. Support and promote mental health related events such as R U OK? Day, Mental Health Awareness Month?
    6. Encourage flexibility such as: flexible start/finish times, flexible days, rostered days off, work-from-home, or job sharing)?
    7. Encourage employee participation in decision making and problem solving?
    8. Have and enforce anti-bullying policies which are specific, and detail guidelines for managers on their role in countering bullying?
    9. Effectively and inclusively explain workplace changes and/or restructures to employees, encouraging feedback and comments, in order to mitigate negative effects on wellbeing?
    10. Offer coaching and mentoring sessions and development opportunities, to employees looking to grow themselves and their career?
    11. Encourage physical activity throughout the working day as well as outside of hours?
    12. Promote reward structures?
    13. Conduct regular wellbeing checks to identify symptoms of poor mental health and facilitate early treatment?
    14. Provide and promote Employee Assistance Programs and/or workplace counselling services?
    15. Offer resilience programs such as stress training or cognitive behavioural interventions to help employees better manage work-related stress and challenges?
    16. Provide supervisors and managers with mental health training, tools and resources to assist in employee recovery and mental health management?
    17. Provide alternate duties or partial sick leave to support employees struggling with mental illness?
    18. Provide comprehensive Return to Work programs based on cognitive behavioural therapy, customised according to individual needs?
    19. Regularly conduct employee satisfaction surveys and make changes based on feedback and recommendations?
    20. Have a high rate of employees taking excessive sick days?
    21. Have a history of psychological injury claims?
    22. Have a history of high staff turnover?

How did your workplace do? If you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions (with the exception of questions 20, 21, 22), congratulations it is highly likely that you’re providing employees with a mentally healthy work environment. If you found yourself frequently responding with ‘no’, or if you answered ‘yes’ to questions 20, 21 and 22, then take some of these points on board to implement healthy changes, a positive attitude and approach towards a mentally healthy workplace. Or to have a mental health professional conduct a thorough workplace assessment, and provide you with the best advice and proven mental health strategies and training seminars, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace
An Employee Assistance Program story
A simple guide to talking to employees about mental health

 

Steps to preventing psychological injuries in the workplace

Approximately $543 million is paid in workers’ compensation claims for work-related mental health conditions each year in Australia, comprising nearly 7,200 workers. However often the term ‘psychological injury’ is misunderstood as it is not physically ‘seen’, therefore remains untreated. The term psychological injury refers to an individual’s emotional state and behaviour, which can include conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, and can disrupt their ability to work, carry out daily activities or engage in meaningful relationships.

Signs that a worker may be experiencing poor mental health or a psychological injury are:
• Poor work performance, lack of motivation or low productivity
• Changes in physical appearance i.e. poor grooming
• Restlessness, irritability, seeming passive or other dramatic behavioural changes
• Increased absenteeism or presenteeism
• Mood swings, outbursts or more emotional than usual
• Avoidance or withdrawing from conversation, activities or interactions with others

It’s important to understand that workplace psychological injuries are common and need to be managed appropriately to avoid severe outcomes for the employer and employee. Psychological injuries at work can occur from stress, workload demands and pressure to perform, but are also regularly attributed to workplace bullying and harassment.

Mental Health Claims in Australia associated with bullying and harrasment

So how can psychological injuries be prevented? The great news is that there are many easy to implement and low-cost short term prevention measures available, which have been proven to effectively manage risk factors:

• Promote work-life balance and enforce it
• Encourage team building activities where workers can engage in socialisation, stepping away from work
• Promote a strong safety culture where WHS is respected, acknowledged and adhered to
• Provide open communication channels where workers can provide feedback or voice concerns privately and without judgement
• Promote wellness programs such as physical activity incentives
• Ensure all WHS policies and procedures are clear, defined and enforced, covering
o Bullying and harassment
o Change and performance management
o Grievance and conflict resolution

So what happens when a worker has already sustained a psychological injury? How can it be managed? Once a psychological injury has occurred, there is considerable research proving that early workplace intervention is the best way to significantly prevent the further development of serious problems and improve return to work outcomes.

1. Firstly, the worker should feel supported and listened to – open communication is key! If a worker voices concerns of a psychological injury, they should be heard to ensure that their frustrations are not displaced.

2. Take all reasonable steps to determine the cause of the injury. If the injury is a result of bullying or harassment, action should be taken immediately concerning all parties involved, and inappropriate behaviour ceased. Alternatively, if the injury is the result of workload or stress, re-prioritise, delegate or consider temporary alternate duties.

3. Ensure workers have confidential access to employer supported Employee Assistance Programs to improve resilience and determine coping strategies.

4. Consult a workforce safety provider who can provide training to supervisors and managers on how best to manage mental illness in the workplace, and assist those people to continue to work.

5. Provide contact details for medical support services where the worker can seek further assistance at their discretion.
o Lifeline – 13 11 14
o beyondblue – 1300 22 4636
o SANE Australia – 1800 187 263
o R U OK?
o Black Dog Institute

6. Don’t judge, blame or make negative comments with regard to a workers psychological injury, as it can demonstrate lack of understanding and sympathy.

7. Maintain contact and regularly check in.

When at work, no one wants to feel unsupported, isolated or sad, and no employer wants to have to worry about filling an unnecessarily vacant job position or navigating the workers’ compensation process. So despite having a duty of care, by taking steps to provide a mentally healthy workplace, employers are protected from psychological harm, but employers can also ensure that their businesses are as productive as possible.

How to promote corporate wellness when it’s not your primary role

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: healthier employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale. But what happens when corporate wellness is not actually your primary job, but your job description just happens to have a tiny reference to ‘promote health and wellness’ listed within it?

You’re not the only one… many small businesses try to promote health and wellbeing within their organisation, yet don’t have a dedicated corporate wellness manager, or the budget to contract an external provider. And the reality is, to implement wellness strategies and programs can often take up more time and resources than what you have available. But the good news is, there are plenty smart ways to execute corporate wellness which are easily implementable and can cost very little or nothing at all.

Here’s where to start:

  1. Make it useful – if people think they will benefit from it, they’re more likely to use it. Start by taking a quick survey of employees to determine what they want out of a corporate wellness program. Alternatively, or in addition, you might like to direct them to a wellness quiz such as ‘find out your real age’ or ‘how healthy are you’, which are in abundance on the web. This might kick them into gear to recognise the importance of their health and also give you a starting point to track progress and program success.

 

  1. Choose one thing and do it well – not every organisation can afford to build a fully-equipped on-site gym or hire personal trainers for their staff. But you don’t have to… there are plenty of small steps to take (see the list below) which, when done well, can make a big impact on physical and emotional wellbeing. And by focusing on one initiative at a time, you still have a long list of health ideas to keep the motivation going for months to come.

 

  1. Be visible – there’s no point in implementing anything without people knowing about it. Use posters, staff notices, email and social media groups to let employees know what’s happening. Research suggests that in order for people to take notice, a message should be exposed between 5 and 7 times!

 

  1. Get feedback – if employees don’t enjoy it the first time round, they won’t want to do it again. Simple. Survey employees, or ask them face to face, for positive and negative feedback, recommendations and suggestions. Because the reality is, if people are enjoying their time spent on their health, and are engaged, the business will benefit just as much as the individual. Try to provide regular touchpoints to check in with employees and track progress.

Statistics regarding Australian workers and wellbeing

Despite your budget, resources or time constraints, there are plenty of creative ways to promote corporate wellness and provide employees with some stimulation outside of work, whilst still being at work. Here are some suggestions which may be a good place to start:

  • Host ‘walk and talk’ meetings where employees can step away from the boardroom and take a walk around the block instead for shorter meetings or briefings
  • Introduce ‘health challenges’ which may provide an incentive for the winner i.e. ‘10,000 Steps Challenge’
  • Provide healthy snacks in the work kitchen
  • Offer flexible working arrangements so that employees can focus on healthy living and work-life balance
  • Offer Employee Assistance Programs to assist employees who may be struggling with poor mental health or need assistance in managing work and life stressors
  • Consider ‘health adventures’ such as rock climbing or hiking for bonding experiences rather than after-work drinks
  • Salary sacrifice gym memberships or other health subsidies
  • Place motivational signage around the workplace encouraging employees to prioritise their health and wellbeing
  • Provide access to showers and/or storage lockers if possible and encourage employees to walk or ride to work
  • Provide bike racks
  • Hire a yoga or fitness instructor once a month (or as frequent as reasonable) to lead employees in a class
  • Provide stand up desks if possible and encourage regular movement
  • Set aside a time each week for employees to take a quick 10 minute stretch break – have an employee lead the group

It is said that it takes around 66 days to break a habit so it’s important to remember that real change can take time. By implementing some form of corporate wellness program into your business, although you may be starting small, you are making a positive change towards a healthy workplace and positive safety culture. Remember to listen to employees wants and needs, do one thing well and be consistent = employees = higher productivity + less sick days + reduced stress + better morale.

 

 

Is burnout costing your business? Here’s what to do about it.

Picture this… you’re the GM or CEO of a booming commercial company; you’re well connected and well respected within the industry; you rise above any challenge, find superior solutions to any problem, exceed all expectations and the business thrives because of it; you’ve got a nice little holiday home, drive a European car and fly business-class. But here’s the problem… the holiday home sits empty because you work seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; you rarely see your kids before they’re in bed, only ever eat on the run and haven’t been on a date with your partner in months; you’re gaining weight at a steady pace and even the strongest pain-killers are no longer easing your migraines; you can’t take your mind off work, feel as though your constantly putting out fires, and you’re stress levels are through the roof. So is it all worth it?

While studies into burnout have been happening for years, acknowledgement and awareness have only recently become more prevalent within Australian businesses, with workers from the CEO to the receptionist and cleaner often ignoring its symptoms. But not only is burnout affecting the lives of those experiencing it, it’s also costing businesses billions of dollars each year in absenteeism, presenteeism, accidents and injury.

And this is a problem! Job burnout is associated with work stress and is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, usually involving a sense of reduced achievement, which can be related to health conditions such as depression, illness and disease. Symptoms can include becoming cynical or critical, irritability and/or impatience, decline in productivity and concentration, fatigue, lack of satisfaction or physical illness. So whether you’re the CEO of this particular booming business, or you recognise symptoms in your employees, it’s so important that they are not ignored.

Here are some key areas to focus on:

Lack of control – do workers have control of their own schedule, projects or workload? Do workers have all the resources they need to do their job?
Role and expectations – do workers clearly understand their role and expectations, how much authority do they have and do they feel valued?
Demands – are workers able to cope with the demands and workload of their role?
Relationships and support – do workers have positive working relationships, with open communication, with co-workers and managers? Do manager’s micro-manage work? Are workers receiving encouragement and support for a job well done?
Organisational change – if change or restructure is taking place, are workers well managed and effectively communicated to?
Activity extremes – is the job monotonous or chaotic? Both can lead to burnout.
Work-life balance – does the job take up so much time and effort that a worker is missing out on time with friends or family, or doesn’t even have the energy to take part in activities outside of work?

It’s important to remain object and keep and open mind when you consider these questions… because at the end of the day, health is more important than ticking an item off your to do list.

“Presenteeism is a concept that describes people being present at work but not productive. Current research shows this to be a $33 billion loss to Australian industry.”

If you’ve realised that burnout is in fact prevalent in your workplace, take action! There are plenty of small things which can help:

Evaluate the options – what is priority 1 on you or your workers to do list? Work together to determine expectations, problems and solutions, what needs doing now, and what can wait. Be realistic.
Get help – reach out to support networks: co-workers, family and friends. Anyone who might be able to assist either in collaborating you to get the job done, or provide you with some stress-relief. An Employee Assistance Program is a great tool to provide counselling, support and useful techniques to manage stress and build resilience.
Take your mind off it – try a relaxing activity or hobby that might assist in taking your mind away from work, even for 10 minutes.
Exercise ¬– there’s a lot of research proving that exercise is a great stimulant for improving mental health. Get moving!
Rest ¬– as with exercise, sleep is vital to functioning at full capacity, not to mention allows you to think clearly and make good choices.
Practice mindfulness – there are plenty of Apps available which can take you through mindfulness techniques to calm and reduce stress.

So after a bit of re-prioritising, delegating and practicing some mindfulness, you’re still the CEO of a booming commercial company; still well connected and well respected; and you’re taking the family to the holiday home for the weekend, while you switch off your phone and enjoy some ‘me’ time. Because what you’ve just learnt is that well-managed workplaces are proactive about burnout, see issues as they arise and are prepared to put workplace health first.

An Employee Assistance Program Story

Sarah* was into her third year working for a major Australian news publisher, was head of a small team and caught in the middle of a company-wide restructure that bought with it much uncertainty.

“There was a lot of movement happening within the company which seemed to take forever for any actual changes to be made… people were getting fed up with the lack of communication from management, worried about their job security and a lot of people ended up finding new jobs elsewhere. And they weren’t being replaced fast enough or at all so the workload was massively piling up”.

With an ever-increasing workload, a team to support and a system database crash adding to an already stressful working environment, a relationship breakdown with her boyfriend was enough to push Sarah to breaking point.

“I was burnt out. I really honestly just didn’t care anymore… as soon as I cleared my plate of one thing, another issue would come up”.

Sarah had seen the Employee Assistance Program posters around the office, and vaguely recalled the email come through advising employees of the new initiative, and decided it was time to take notice. And rightfully so.

“I called the number and was offered help straight away. They asked if I’d like a one-on-one or phone session and I took the phone option. I think I was entitled to around eight sessions which my employer paid for. I only had three though… after three I had my head in a good enough space to get myself back on track. And it was good to know I had other sessions available if I needed them later on”.

Sarah was provided with confidential counselling which offered coping strategies to deal with her work-induced stress, and offered suggestions on how to best manage work-life balance and deal with her break-up.


“The lady running the EAP gave me a bunch of coping strategies to deal with the stress at work and the reassurance that it was only temporary while the re-structure was taking place. She also helped me deal with my relationship breakdown and gave me a bit of confidence that it was okay to take time for myself”.

And Sarah credits the Employee Assistance Program for providing the support she needed at the time, in both her work and personal life.

“I am really glad that I did the EAP because I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise. Probably quit my job and have even more stress to deal with. And now I am focused again, doing well at my job and am emotionally available to me team”.

*Sarah, 26, New South Wales

For information on how an EAP can help your employees and business, see Employee Assistance Programs.