A messy desk is a sign of creativity, not stress. So I’m told. 

What is EAP and how can it help me?

EAP stands for Employee Assist Program. Companies pay an annual fee for confidential phone or face to face counselling for their employees to access for their well-being.  Most businesses large and small host regular social events to encourage team bonding including pub lunches, after work drinks or the annual Christmas Party. Some firms may have a running team, a book club, triathlon events or even play sport together. Their business units often gather offsite for events, play sport or exercise together, so that’s the social and physical covered, but what about supporting their mental health? This is where EAP comes in.

Recent stats out of New York have revealed the suicide rates have skyrocketed during this global pandemic. People are feeling disconnect, loneliness and stress more than ever before because of the enforced isolation of Covid – 19. It stands to reason; this feeling is also a global one. Humans are social creatures. When we are disconnected, we seek connection, when we can’t connect this causes emotional pain and distress. We often look for other ways to relieve this pain by turning outwards to drugs or alcohol for self soothing. In Australia, a country not adverse to a tipple, the alcohol consumption has increased by around 70%. I have no doubt in this period of isolation, drug consumption has also increased but would be difficult to measure. Counselling can sometimes be the solution here, without the hangover.

I’ve never worked for a company whose employees didn’t undergo stress at certain times of the year. Whether this is due to a looming deadline, or prepping for a large event, stress in the workplace can build up slowly like a pressure cooker. You may not be aware of it until you are throwing everything off your desk, having a large scale adult tanty and calling your computer a mother-klucker. Combine this with pressure at home from your kids or partner tensions around finances or job security and this can all build up to impact your work performance.

I do remember signing employee contracts and someone pointing out the EAP program. I never thoroughly understood how it worked and cynically wondered just how confidential it was. I wondered if it might get back to Helen from Head Office that I thought she was a useless gnat and my manager should pay me for all the overtime. But, I never used it, I never processed my feelings, mostly I met friends at the pub and whinged about work, decided all bosses were armholes and updated my CV.

Once after a particularly horrendous relationship breakup, one of my managers said to me “I wish you had reached out, we could have supported you.” Like how? Moved me out of my home to a one-bedroom apartment? Held my hand as I sobbed into my vodka? How? I felt very alone, I didn’t want anyone at work to know and I tried to use work as a distraction. When I was able to be productive at work, and not looking out of the window going over the last conversation, or tearfully deleting texts and emails. Counselling would have helped. Free counselling would have been even better, had I known, or understood how it all worked.

I can tell you a little more about how it works now because I have been the one on the other end of the phone.  Three things I have learned from being an EAP counsellor:

  1. It is completely confidential, there is no written report. The EAP provided does not tell the company who I they have seen that day, week or month.
  2. Phone calls, are just as effective at getting to the heart of the matter as a face to face session.
  3. The EAP provider is separate from your workplace. They listen without judgement. They don’t benefit from suggesting you stay or go. They listen and support.

The thing about the Employee Assist Program is that it is separate from work and allows you to talk about your stress with someone who doesn’t know the politics of your workplace but who understands the pressure you may be under.

I have spoken with a range of employees, some tell me about their families and not work, some tell me about their work and not families. Some tell me about their pets and their childhood and how they are coping or not in this climate of uncertainty.

One thing about this is certain though, when you talk to an EAP professional, your work place does not hear about it. It is completely confidential. The invoice sent to the employer does not name you – the company receives an invoice for one or more sessions. It might be worthwhile checking your company website or looking at your employment contract to find out if you have an EAP provider. If not, ask your HR manager or line manager if they have a well-being budget. They may offer a private counselling arrangement or decide to do a well-being workshop in house. It is certainly worth investigating into this often overlooked but high value service.

Rachel Wilkinson is a Counsellor, Massage therapist, Reiki Master and Kids’ Yoga Teacher. She is available for workplace mediation sessions, individual, couple, and family counselling appointments as well as offering EAP in the workplace. She has recently received a glowing review after an EAP session by being called ” That awesome swearing counsellor.” She can be contacted by email E:info@rachelwilkinson.com.au or mobile 0402 329 259 or you may visit her website here: https://www.rachelwilkinson.com.au/