EAP: 3 letters you need to learn

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By MiningFM contributor Brooke Martin

What is an EAP? If you're new to mining and haven't come across this acronym before, here's a quick lesson for you! 

EAP stands for "Employee Assistance Program". By definition, according to the Employee Assistance Program Association of Australia, it's a work-based intervention program designed to enhance the emotional, mental and general psychological wellbeing of employees and their immediate family members. The aim is to provide preventative and proactive interventions for the early detection, identification and/or resolution of both work and personal problems that may adversely affect performance and wellbeing.  

These problems and issues could include (but aren't limited to) relationships, health, trauma, substance abuse, gambling and other addictions, financial problems, depression, anxiety disorders, psychiatric disorders, communication problems, legal and coping with change. 

In other words, an Employee Assistance Program is a confidential counselling service provided by a company for its employees and their families, to deal with work related and/or personal problems impacting the employee’s on-the-job performance. 

Companies usually contract out their EAP service to a professional third party. All information discussed during counselling remains confidential, with no personal details passed on to the employer. (The only information provided is for statistical purposes relating to the number of employees utilizing the EAP for that particular month/quarter and the main issues/concerns.)

So if you had access to an EAP, funded entirely by your employer, would you use it? 

As it turns out, not necessarily! Often, employees simply don't know that their company offers an EAP, or they refuse to utilise the service because of ego, scepticism about the outcome and doubts about confidentiality.

When I raised the topic with Aussie expat mining wives, the overwhelming response was "What is an EAP?" Quite a concerning response, really, especially given these families are living a long way from home and often they don't speak the local language or have access to physical or mental health facilities. 

Most expat wives said that when signing on for a new assignment, there was initially such an abundance of company information that things got overlooked (the fact that an EAP exists included!) 

Those who were aware of their company's EAP didn't actually know the contact details or how the process worked. They remembered reading something about it, but weren't sure how to get the counselling sessions started.

"How can a stranger possibly know what I am going through and how are they meant to help," one asked. Others were sceptical about confidentiality, believing any details would be passed back to workplace supervisors. And as another expat wife put it: "It's just too hard, I'd rather deal with my family problems myself."

Next I questioned mining employees from all levels of the workforce in Australia and overseas (managers, supervisors, engineers, drill and blast, geologists and administration personnel).

Again, there was a mixed response. A few said they were aware of some type of free counselling service, but didn't know how to go about organizing a counselling session for themselves or where the sessions actually took place.

Some said they would never speak to a counsellor linked with the company EAP, for fear of details being leaked back to the workplace (and in particular, their supervisor). One employee said that after using the company's supposedly confidential EAP various times, it was mentioned by a supervisor in an end-of-year talent review. Another said: "We're blokes, we're not meant to discuss problems - we just bottle it up and deal with it!"

Some employees said their company EAP was fantastic, because it allowed them to speak to a professional about workplace problems or the general pressures of life without being judged in any way. They also said it was refreshing and comforting that the information remained confidential. 

Numerous employees also said they had urged fellow workmates to utilize the EAP, but there seemed to be a "stigma" surrounding the whole thing. 

So how can we get rid of this stigma regarding EAPs in the mining industry, and promote the program in a positive light so that it is utilised by all facets of the workforce? 

  1. Educate line managers: these managers need to be equipped with the information and skills required to support their workers. By educating managers about EAP benefits, companies can turn them into natural ambassadors for the service. And strong morale means increased productivity. 
  2. Regular promotion: EAPs need to be advertised among the workforce - and not just at induction. One day per year could perhaps be dedicated to promoting mental health and EAP services. One employee suggested there be a sign-off on acknowledgment of their company’s EAP.
  3. Communicate EAP benefits at stressful times of the year: let's be honest, Christmas is a very tough time of year for most of us! Whether it be family issues, financial strife or simply the fact that another year has flown by, this would be a sensible time to promote the company EAP to employees.
  4. Arm employees with the facts: workers need to know the nitty gritty details about EAPs: ie it's available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, free of charge, completely confidential, and what type of issues the EAP counselors can assist with. 

At the end of the day, EAPs benefit employees and their employer by decreasing absenteeism, increasing productivity, improving staff morale, preventing on-the-job accidents, reducing medical and disability benefit claims and generally increasing employee satisfaction with their job and their workplace.

If you don't know whether your employer offers an EAP, simply contact the human resources department and they will be able to point you in the right direction. If you are aware of your company's EAP, take the time to utilise the service – and encourage others to do so as well! Having a clear and focused mind on the job prevents accidents – so make the most of your EAP today!