Getting the most from your employee assistance programmes

    • At last years ABI briefing on managing mental health at work (in partnership with AXA PPP healthcare), we highlighted the need for employers and managers to be trained on spotting the signs of mental illness in the workplace and on putting in place preventive measures to address this area of concern.

      In support of both managers and employees, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have come under renewed scrutiny in terms of delivering effective support when an organisation is adversely affected by mental ill health.

      In my view, one of the biggest areas of need is to support people with mental ill health issues through an effective EAP. All too often, an employer’s best attempt to provide support is simply to offer an EAP. Obviously, anyone with a mental health issue can get counseling – box ticked, job done. Well, unfortunately not.

      Potential problems

      The problem has been that with the rapid growth of EAPs, the UK has seen many new providers entering the market, prices collapse and the commoditisation of the market, with some EAPs offering less than had used to be the norm. Now ‘free’ EAPs are even tagged on to income protection schemes and providers who promise to ‘beat any quote by 20%’. Clearly, the only way to achieve this is to cut the cost of delivery, with the less scrupulous providers actively trying to restrict access to the service.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all EAPs are bad. In fact, a good EAP from a reputable provider has got to be the best value for money benefit around. But recognise it for what it is – a great benefit, not the full answer to serious mental health issues in the workplace.

      So what is the answer?

      Either high quality treatment or appropriate occupational health case management where a case manager actively manages instances of workplace mental ill health and/or facilitates return to work by overcoming barriers, psychological or otherwise.

      Mental health support needs to be directed towards those who need it most – both individuals who are directly affected and their managers and employers who have a duty of care towards employees.

      My advice is to stop looking for the next big thing and go back to basics – provide support for those who need it most via training and development to identify the sign of mental illness at work and put in place an effectively functioning EAP that offers employees the required support.

    • Dr Mark Winwood

      Viewpoint by Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Director for Psychological Health for AXA PPP healthcare's Health Services division

      Mark holds Associate Fellowship and Chartership with the British Psychological Society, he is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and is a chartered Scientist.

      Mark joined the medical services of AXA PPP healthcare in June 2008 and was previously Clinical Director for AXA PPP healthcare Employee Support for over 10 years.

      Prior to joining AXA Mark worked as a Senior Psychologist in the NHS and has many years of clinical experience and research expertise. He is an active member of the EAPA, BPS and BACP - Workplace. He maintains a private practice as a Psychologist in London.