Enhancing Wellness – A Step Beyond Employee Assistance Programs

By Jana Tulloch, CHRP and Catherine Hoy

Today’s workplace is much different than even just a few years ago – increasing work demands, constant change with often little control, financial pressures, work-life balance issues – and employees are feeling the pressure. It used to be taboo to talk openly about any emotional challenges with an expectation that work was work and kept separate from your personal life.
Life stressors are constantly creeping into the workplace and employees are now far more open about what they’re experiencing. In fact, they are often sharing it openly on social networks.  Worrisome can be the sharing that includes unkind comments about unsupportive or uncaring employers. When employees feel their employer doesn’t care about them, they often end up not caring about the employer. This can have a significant impact on a company’s productivity through increased absenteeism, low morale and presenteeism. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian economy lost $16.6 billion in 2012 due to absenteeism. Companies need happy, productive employees not only to thrive, but to survive. 

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have been around for some time and are a standard in any wellness program.  However, according to EAP provider Shepellfgi, only 20 per cent of employees use their organization’s EAP program, and with the Mental Health Commission of Canada estimating that roughly 30 per cent of disability claims can be attributed to mental health issues, there is certainly opportunity for employers to look at alternatives in an effort to help employees.

With people spending significant amounts of their lives at work, it’s a natural progression to begin to construct familial-type relationships with those we work with over a period of time.  It is that particular sense of belonging and understanding that can help employees manage their attendance better. How that need translates into activities an employer can take to better support employees’ emotional and spiritual health can be a bit nebulous. 

Supporting emotional and spiritual health needs to be a holistic approach to overall well-being. Every employee comes to work with their foundational elements intact. These elements include physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual. Spirituality can include meaning, value, connectedness, hope, purpose and/or faith and it is unrealistic to disregard these elements in employees. Positive outcomes arise when employers take interests in these basic concerns.

When employees know that they’re taken care of holistically, the organization benefits by increased morale, decreased absenteeism, and improved productivity. Most employees want to contribute their best in what they do, however circumstances may affect emotions and behaviours, which in turn affect contributions at work.  When these circumstances are not being addressed, problems are left unsolved.  In a workplace situation, this might mean resentment or a withdrawal from work.  Either, or both, of these sentiments will culminate either to lower productivity and/or increased absenteeism in the workplace.

The newly released National Standard of Canada for Psychological and Safety in the Workplace by the Mental Health Commission of Canada is a starting point for employers, with guidelines to better support their employees’ emotional well-being. Employers will need to work to transform those guidelines into company-specific policies and activities, with the full support of the employees themselves. Human Resource departments are in a great position to propose such programs from a more strategic level and drive the notion that paying attention to employee’s emotional well-being is good  not only for the employee, but for the bottom line as well. Organizations need to implement a multi-disciplinary approach that allows for the employee to obtain the support they need and ultimately keep them in, or return them to, the workplace as productive employees. 

Jana Tulloch, CHRP, is an independent HR Consultant at Tulloch Consulting
Catherine Hoy, MA, is the Founding Director of Care at Work

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