There is a surprising trend when it comes to workplace wellness programmes in India. While the coverage of structured wellness programmes is low — reaching about 15% of India’s workforce, according to Redseer consulting — so is the utilisation of such services, where they exist. So, why do structured wellness initiatives like employee assistance programmes (EAPs) see such dismal usage rates by the very people they are designed to benefit?
Globally, workplace burnout, anxiety, and depression have spiked in the last two years. The failure of EAPs to position themselves as a viable option for employees to seek mental health support, is therefore, a trend that has baffled experts for some time.
Here are some reasons why workers may be unable or unwilling to avail of EAPs’ services.
Why EAPs See Dismal Utilisation Rates
Lack of time
If employees are expected to take initiative and carve out time for psychosocial counselling or support groups on their own, it’s not likely to work. Similarly, expecting your employees to use the EAPs’ services after their stipulated working hours is also pointless, as most of them would prefer to wind up and go home. Unless the organisation mandates setting aside time for wellbeing with no guilt or consequences attached, people will see it as a drain on their time.
Limitations of counselling sessions
With EAPs, the focus is usually on one-on-one counselling, and not all-around wellbeing through workshops, support groups, advocacy and so on.
Counselling, while important, may not be useful to every employee. Some people might just have issues with their organisation’s culture (e.g., toxicity, lack of work-life balance, etc), while others may need greater work flexibility or support from their teams. To address issues like these, companies need to create proactive forums for discussion and interactions with wellbeing experts. This ensures that relatively minor concerns don’t spiral out of control in the long run.
A common fear among those seeking counselling is regarding the privacy of their discussion with the counsellor. Unless this privacy and confidentiality is 100% guaranteed both by the organisation and the EAP agency, people may be wary about sharing their problems with someone they can’t even meet in person (EAPs typically offer telephonic therapy sessions).
Stigma and depersonalisation
There is high stigma around mental health in our country. The lack of awareness causes people to be afraid to divulge their personal information to others, lest they be judged or face professional consequences for doing so. Chaitali Sinha, a practitioner-researcher and psychologist at HAQ: Center for Child Rights, says that this ‘cocktail of stigma and ignorance’ continues to prevent many Indians from accessing mental health care.
To counter this lack of awareness, your wellness partner must invest heavily in building awareness among your employees. However, it is often seen that EAPs rarely go beyond sending generic mass emails or posters that can seem impersonal, forced, or repetitive. This further prevents people from mustering the courage to speak up about their issues.
If EAPs do not seem to be serving the purpose, what is the solution?
The Solution: A Holistic Wellness Programme
As discussed in our previous articles, companies need to be proactive when it comes to mental healthcare, providing transparent and holistic wellbeing solutions. This includes a shift in how we think about wellness or mental health programmes itself – not as a reaction to a problem, but in terms of creating an organisational culture of wellness.
Here are a few suggestions to make this shift to a comprehensive wellness programme:
Systematically map and track workplace wellbeing parameters
Emotional health assessments are science-based tools that help in identifying risks to mental health. They are usually self-assessment questionnaires that employees can fill with the guidance of experts. They can then consult designated psychologists and receive personalised suggestions for self-care through one-on-one discussions.
Proactively engage people and teams
Creating a wellbeing programme with a whole-group approach caters to a large number of employees within the fixed duration and builds a feeling of community among peers. It also helps make mental health a mass movement instead of only focussing on individual employees who may be undergoing problems.
Rapport and accountability as a two-way street
Introduce your team to their designated mental health counsellors, and talk about the latter’s background, experience, specialty, etc.. This will help break the ice and encourage your employees to use the therapists’ services.
Accountability must also be built for employees to make effective use of the service being provided. Often, employees end up missing sessions due to personal or workplace reasons. This can lead to frustration for the counsellor as well as the employee. Hence develop clear protocols for when employees cannot make it to a scheduled session.
Train wellbeing advocates
For sustaining the impact of your wellbeing programme over the long run, train your employees to become wellbeing advocates/champions. This helps in embedding new attitudes and behaviours around mental health. It also shows that the company is invested in employee wellness and encourages discussions around wellbeing and seeking support.
It is time we take a look at the gaps in EAP services and their usage rates and move towards a complete system of mental healthcare at the workplace.