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Revitalizing your Employee Assistance Program

Historically, employee assistance programs have been underutilized by employees who often either do not understand what services are provided or who are unaware that such services are provided at all. But with all of the recent attention focused on workplace mental health services, this is an opportune time to remind your team members of the availability of such programs and to encourage them to take advantage of the services provided whenever needed.

In a recent study underwritten by the American Organization of Nurse Leaders, 75% of surveyed nurse leaders stated their number one concern was the emotional health and well-being of their staff. In addition, results from another survey, the American Nurses Association’s Workplace Pulse survey, indicate high levels of exhaustion, burnout, stress, fatigue and feelings of being undervalued. From Vivian Health’s Future of Healthcare Work Report we learned that 65% of registered nurses reported their organizations did not do enough to support their mental health.


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There will likely never be a single solution emerging as a magic bullet to help nurses recover from the pandemic; what will be required are a multitude of different strategies to help staff to recover fully from what was a lengthy, mentally and physically taxing period of time. Concurrently, since nurses are reexamining their careers and rethinking a need for a change in their work-life balance, there is no better time to (re)assess your organization’s employee assistance program (EAP) components and its effectiveness in providing services to your nursing staff.


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In another recent survey, conducted nationally by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was found that 84% of large employers in the private sector had an EAP and 90% of large public sector employers had an EAP.  Unfortunately, it would appear that all current EAPs are for some reason being significantly underutilized by staff. One challenge for these programs has always been the ability to overcome employees’ fear of potential workplace retaliation if their supervisor is made aware they have accessed the EAP. While this is certainly not the only reason for EAP underutilization, according to multiple studies, consultants and human resource professionals, overall EAP program utilization for eligible employees across all industries averages below ten percent. This statistic, coupled with the recent demonstrated need for post-pandemic health and wellness resources, suggests an opportunity to reevaluate your EAP program in order to consider and then implement changes based on the recent survey findings. Making programmatic changes aimed specifically at addressing employee emotional health, well-being and work life balance may help improve an organization’s ability to attract and retain talent.   

Recall that employee assistance programs are typically provided by a third-party vendor as an employee benefit for eligible employees and their family members. They are always confidential, usually free of charge, and may be offered on-site or via video for either individual employees or employee groups. Programs and services include health and wellness programs, mental health programs, safety, performance improvement, substance use disorder, understanding and navigating health care benefits, fitness for duty, critical incident reports, and access to additional counseling services as appropriate. Bring a team together from human resources, employee health services and nursing to identify new or different needs of the employees and then evaluate the program components currently being offered. Then work with the organization’s EAP provider to make any required program changes or enhancements, assuring the right mix of issue specific programs that are onsite, offsite, and for individuals or groups.  




Once the EAP has been reviewed, it is then vitally important to re-communicate with your staff about program availability and components, because many employees may forget or don’t even realize these benefits are available to them.  Be sure that your HR and Employee Health teams are working closely with your EAP provider to monitor both process and outcome metrics, so as to understand better which services are more highly utilized versus others that aren't; always, of course, keeping all data confidential and never attaching any one metric to any one employee. Which of the services are used most often? Are they being utilized online or in person? Is it individual or group therapy, or group/team programming, or workshops that focus on health and wellness? Are the services helping employees to remain in the workforce or assisting in the coordination of effective return-to-work plans?  Is there a way to customize some of the programming to meet the specific needs of your workforce? 

So this is, again, a good time to reinvigorate or reinstitute, and to re-communicate your employee assistance program availability. Sometimes an issue can be as simple as an employee just needing help navigating your healthcare insurance benefit, which presents as a great opportunity for the employee assistance team to demonstrate to employees they can be a great partner and resource in helping them to navigate through any workplace issue. Encourage folks to take advantage of this benefit, it will be well worth the time and effort to help nurses and the rest of our healthcare team members recover from what's been a really challenging few years. 

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Doran, Michelle. (2022). Employee Assistance Programs A Misunderstood and Underused Resource for Nurses. JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration 52(11):p 625-627, November 2022.



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Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Brooks is an accomplished health care executive who has a unique blend of leadership experiences from three distinct sectors of the health care industry: for-profit companies, academic administration, and nursing operations within health care systems. She is an internationally recognized expert in quality of nursing worklife, having designed a questionnaire that has been used in 45 countries and translated into 10 languages.

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