Getting the Most Out of Employee Assistance Programs

Many school districts have long-established programs that can help staff weather the emotional and mental toll of the pandemic and other global events, as well as a range of life stressors.

They are often underutilized for a variety of reasons. Employees may not be familiar with the programs. They can be uncomfortable to use. And workers may be reluctant to access a service that many associate with mental illness or disciplinary issues.

This allows districts to ensure that employees are aware of and getting the most out of these employee assistance programs.

Rebranded to make the program more welcoming and inclusive

Employees may already be familiar with their district’s Employee Assistance Program. But the words don’t always evoke positive vibes. For many K-12 employees, interactions with EAPs are rooted in not-so-pleasant origins, such as B. When a school principal or boss recommends that they use the program because of a problem at work.

It is the district’s responsibility to educate employees that the same services can help them with a range of life challenges, including coping with a medical diagnosis, caring for the elderly, childcare, financial pressures, suicide prevention, or substance abuse assistance.

The District of Columbus, Ohio, for example, has integrated its EAP program into its wellness initiatives and rebranded it under the umbrella of Total Rewards, which covers both the EAP and other wellness programs. The district now largely dispenses with the term “EAP”.

“We educate people about the opportunities and then point them in the right direction to those opportunities,” said Michael De Fabbo, Columbus’ chief talent officer. “People don’t feel like they’re using EAP, but they’re using EAP.”

The renaming also helps remove some of the negative connotations that districts must work hard against.

“When people hear ‘mental health’ or ‘see a therapist,’ there’s a bit of stigma attached to it,” said Oscar Mendoza, superintendent of operations at the Fresno Unified School District in California. “Organizations as a whole really need to learn to remove the stigma so that our members feel open and comfortable and willing to use these services – because they are definitely needed.”

Evaluate what is on offer

It is helpful for districts to determine whether their programs meet the needs of employees and whether they are offered at appropriate times and in appropriate forms. Are counselors only available during the day, causing teachers to miss classes or schedule times to seek help? Does your provider offer you the best bang for your buck?

Before the pandemic, officials in Columbus were looking for a new company for the district’s EAP program because they wanted to offer more services to employees and do it in a more convenient way.

With the new provider, employees can also get help via online chats or e-mail instead of just by phone. The district also added what they call “concierge support” to help employees manage secondary issues related to their original cause of concern, such as: B. billing or the transfer of medical records.

“Navigating the healthcare industry is extremely difficult and can cause a lot of stress for an individual,” said Courtney Hale, director of Columbus’ Total Rewards. “It’s like using this service as a full service, so we’re addressing more than just the emotional and mental support.”

Increase communication

Many districts are finding that many of their employees are unaware that they can access these services, often for free. And many are unaware of the range of life management support the programs offer, from legal support to financial well-being.

These are some of the reasons many districts have increased communication. Fresno mails out brochures to directors and department heads so that if they ever need to recommend the service to a teacher or staff member, they have the information right at their desk. The same information is also available from the county human resources department. The district’s joint health management, consisting of representatives of the administration and the unions, also sends messages to the district. Individual unions are also doing their bit, Mendoza said.

Columbus’ wellness team has also upped their communication game, sending out e-blasts and newsletters to keep employees informed. Health Advocates account executives have also hosted webinars to engage with employees about the benefits available and to answer their questions.

“We see this increase [in usage] because we do so many bets,” Hale said.

get feedback

Districts can only determine whether the services they provide are effective by surveying their employees.

Indianapolis did.

Through a series of focus groups, the district learned that while teachers needed mental health support, that provided through the EAP was not always available when it was most appropriate, according to Alex Moseman, director of talent acquisition at Indianapolis Public Schools.

This prompted the district to partner with Talkspace, the online therapy app that gives employees free access to therapists during their work hours.

A Columbus worker told officers that calling out for help actually increased her anxiety in a way that going online and chatting with someone didn’t.

Ease of use and privacy are also issues that districts need to consider.

“It’s interesting that there’s this inherent ability to interact with someone online that feels more anonymous than calling someone on the phone right now,” De Fabbo said.

Connect to existing programs

EAPs don’t have to be the be-all and end-all. Many districts already have a wealth of independent programs that target employee mental health and well-being.

In Columbus, officials connect employees with additional resources available through the district’s health insurance system.

Fresno has increased its focus on social-emotional support in recent years while increasing the number of social workers and counselors in schools. While these efforts have been largely aimed at students, they also help teachers.

Desert Sands Unified, also in California, has found employees are becoming more involved with Care Solace, a program originally sought before the pandemic to help students and families with issues ranging from mental health to housing and… nutritional problems to individual educational programs for students with disabilities. The district’s psychiatric and counseling services are also available to employees.

“We need [our staff] to provide an educational, nurturing and caring environment for our students,” said Laura Fisher, assistant district director for student support services. “We need to provide them with that support so that they can provide that support for our students.”

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