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Many impediments that employers encounter in leveraging an employee assistance program to manage direct and indirect costs associated with mental health disorders can be addressed by modifying their program's communication strategy.
Specifically, experts outlined messaging tactics that employers can use to reduce employees' reluctance to use EAP counseling services.
“Employers need to do a much better job of changing the conversation around utilization of EAPs in order to remove the stigma that might come with it,” said Bruce Elliott, compensation and benefits manager for the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management.
Advertising an EAP's less intrusive services — including financial planning and family-oriented concierge services, such as directories for babysitters and after-school child care, personal shoppers and travel arrangements — can draw employees into the program without fear of incurring negative attention from their co-workers or managers, Mr. Elliott said.
“If you can get employees used to the idea of accessing the EAP for day-to-day issues, they won't be as likely to hesitate to call the EAP for help when a more serious problem comes up,” he said.
Employers can also ease concerns about using EAP-based services by highlighting employees' positive experiences with the program, experts said.
“One of the keys to broader acceptance is at the peer level,” said Paula Andersen, a Louisville, Ky.-based director of Buck Consultants L.L.C.'s health and productivity practice. “If there's any type of communication, make sure you're including testimonials from ordinary employees about their experiences using the program.”
Another crucial element of employers' communication about EAP mental health services is frequent and detailed information about their program's privacy protections.
“Wherever it is that you're communicating with your employees about the EAP, there needs to be a banner headline that their trust in you is critical to the program, and that their information will never be used in a way that affects their employment,” said Helen Darling, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Business Group on Health. “I don't think you can ever say that often or strongly enough.”
Employee assistance programs can effectively reduce the adverse effects of depression, workplace stress and other mental health issues, but research shows that most EAP-based mental health services are underutilized by employees.