Introduction to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Introduction

Does your organization have an Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)? Have you ever considered being part of one or using the one available at your organization? Read on to learn more about these common workplace benefits and how they can be helpful to you as a social services worker or a practicing counsellor.

EAP are fairly common in larger organizations, according to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA, n.d.):

In the US, over 97% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs. 80% of companies with 1,001 – 5,000 employees have EAPs. 75% of companies with 251 – 1,000 employees have EAPs

Despite their commonness, there are a number of articles out there discussing the notion that many employees actually fail to take advantage of the services provided by these supports. For example, Barrett (n.d.) says that only 3-5% of UK employees with access to an EAP actually use one. A Psychology Today article discussing the US landscape (Albrecht, 2014) titled “Why Don’t Employees Use EAP Services?” the author notes four barriers to employees utilizing EAP supports:

  1. They (mistakenly) don’t think it’s confidential
  2. They feel there is a stigma for accessing supports
  3. They think (mistakenly) that they need permission
  4. They don’t know the EAP exists

These barriers will need to be overcome if an organization is to see their EAP become a successful part of their benefits program.

Services Offered by EAP

There are numerous services offered by different EAP providers. For example, some of the services offered by LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell include:

  • Counselling
  • Financial Consultation
  • Legal Consultation
  • Life Coaching
  • Research

I’ll discuss some of these benefits below.

Counselling

Counselling is the resource we think of most commonly when we think of an EAP. Telephone counselling is the most popular model of delivery for this support but some EAP providers have moved to video counselling or even providing in-person counselling at a contracted rate.

This counselling support is short-term and solution-focused so that clients are given a handful of sessions in order to work on a defined goal with that counsellor. This can be especially helpful for situational events (grief, trauma, life transitions) where some extra support can help you bridge the gap.

This can be one of the most useful benefits offered by an EAP given that there is often no charge for those sessions when compared to health insurance – if your needs fit within the short-term model.

Financial Consultation

Financial consultation can be very useful for employees who are struggling with debt, bankruptcy, credit issues or even seeking investment advice. While a financial counsellor or financial planner can’t tell you what to do with your money they can help you understand the range of options available to you and give you some knowledge to help you make decisions more effectively.

Legal Consultation

Lawyers can be expensive, and although some offer free consultation you often don’t even know where to begin to locate one. Some EAPs offer legal consultation services that help you understand the gist of a legal issue and give you some awareness of things to keep in mind.

Because of conflict of interest rules, legal supports may not be able to help you with employment-related matters or if you’ve already retained an attorney – but it’s worth a shot.

Life Coaching

Life coaching is a service to help you make a plan for handling a future event. It’s a forward-looking, goal-oriented process that focuses more on behavior and less on the emotional content of a situation like in counselling.

Health Coaching is an example of specialized Life Coaching that might help you deal with weight management, stress management or quitting smoking by acting as a “cheerleader” and helping you on your road to accomplishing these goals.

Research

Research is a benefit offered by some EAPs where if you’re looking for resources like childcare they can help you locate providers in your community that are able to provide this support to you. This can help you navigate the web of services around you and better prepare yourself.

Advantages of Using an EAP

EAP services are designed to help reduce absenteeism and improve employee performance by helping you deal with personal problems (or sometimes work-related problems) through a confidential service separate from your employer.

By receiving some short-term counselling or other support you can improve your productivity and prevent yourself from needing leave or other time off. This helps both you and the company save money, save time and better enjoy your work.

A literature review discussing the benefits of EAP services in the burgeoning Indian corporate world noted “It is seen that such programs offer benefits in preventing distress among employees and also help them become more resilient to adverse situations.” (Betti, Jutta & Gujral, 2018)

Another study exploring the changes experienced by employees in South Africa who received substance abuse treatment through the EAP found that they appreciated it as a “vehicle for change.” (Soeker, et. al., 2016)

The participants shared a sense of accomplishment and they also valued the tools they acquired in the program and how it positively changed their lives. EAP changed the participants’ lives. EAP improved their work performance as well as behavior at the workplace. Participants felt empowered after attending the EAP. The different categories expressed how EAP brought about a positive change in the participants’ lives.

 

Working for an EAP

If you’re a social worker, counsellor or therapist you may have considered working for an EAP as well. Generally counselling provided by an EAP is provided over the phone. The pace is fast but the work is exciting and varied and you can learn a lot about different clients. This is especially useful if you’re in the early part of your career and would like to get your licensure.

Conclusion

The EAP Industry continues to expand. There is an opportunity for researchers to learn more about EAPs and how to make them effective. There are opportunities for individuals to access EAPs in order to improve their wellness and of helping professionals of all stripes to consider joining an EAP as a counsellor in order to increase their skills in providing crisis intervention, telephone support and brief solution-focused counselling.

Bibliography

Albrecht, S. (2014) Why Don’t Employees Use EAP Services? Psychology Today.

Barrett, P. (n.d.) The EAP gap. The Wellbeing Pulse. Retrieved on Feb 6 2019 from https://thewellbeingpulse.com/the-eap-gap/

International Employee Assistance Professionals Association. (n.d.) “International Employee Assistance Professionals Association Publications / Resources > FAQs” Retrieved on Feb 6 2019 from http://www.eapassn.org/FAQs

Soeker, S., Matimba, T., Machingura, L., Msimango, H., Moswaane, B., & Tom, S. (2016). The challenges that employees who abuse substances experience when returning to work after completion of employee assistance programme (EAP). Work53(3), 569–584. https://0-doi-org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.3233/WOR-152230

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Values Worksheet

Introduction

Below is a set of values. You can use these to help your organization choose the values that are most important to them as you begin your organizational planning.

Values

Accountability Achievement Adventure
Assertiveness Authority Autonomy
Bearing Boldness Bravery
Charity Commitment Community
Compassion Competence Confidence
Coolness Courage Creativity
Decisiveness Determination Discipline
Duty Empathy Endurance
Fairness Faith Flexibility
Happiness Health Honor
Humility Improvement Initiative
Integrity Intelligence Justice
Knowledge Leadership Liberty
Logic Loyalty Maturity
Order Peace Persistence
Personal Courage Pride Professionalism
Respect Responsibility Restraint
Security Selfless Service Service
Stability Status Strength
Support Tact Teamwork
Tolerance Toughness Traditional
Trust Understanding Valor

 

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Introduction to Government Policy Development

Introduction

Policy development involves research, analysis and writing of government or organizational policies. Policies “refers to those plans, positions and guidelines of government which influence decisions” by governments, nonprofit agencies or other bodies. (Manitoba Office of the Auditor General, 2003)

This article focuses on government policy, rather than nonprofit policies and procedures, which will be explored in a future article.

Policies can be very broad or very specific, setting out specific plans and programs or instead suggesting the government’s commitment to development.

The 2012 US National Strategy on Suicide (Office of the Surgeon General, 2012) is an example of a specific policy, with 13 goals and 60 objectives that are laid out with clarity such as “Provide training to community and clinical service providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors”, while the UN Sustainble Development Goals (2015) are very broad, like “Affordable and clean energy” and “Reduced inequalities.”

Policy writing may be performed by Policy Analysts or Legislative Aides who work for government, Macro or Community Social Workers, or lobby groups who are advocating for a particular change in policy.

Policy Writing Steps

Policy analysis can be broken down into five steps:

  1. Issue Identification
  2. Issue Analysis
  3. Generating Solutions
  4. Consultation
  5. Performance Monitoring

In the first step, issue identification, the policy analyst will need to identify an issue. Issue identification may occur through many ways, such as constituents talking to their Members of Parliament (or Representatives), lobby groups focused on specific areas like Environmental Issues or Developmental Disabilities who notice concerns in their communities, or other issues.

In Issue Analysis, the Analyst gathers all available information and begins doing research to describe the problem. This can involve interviews, surveys, examining models and policies in other regions and the academic literature.

Generating Solutions involves, as the name suggests, generating a number of potential solutions, changes to policies or laws, or other ways of fixing the identified issues. There are pros and cons to all issues, so an important part of this step is figuring out what the most optimal solution is.

When the policy analyst reaches Consultation, the analyst will provide a draft of their copy to affected stakeholders and ensure that individuals have an opportunity to provide comment. This does not have to be limited to the public, but often public consultations are helpful.

Finally, after the policy is implemented, it should be monitored in order to see the desired outcomes. Outcomes measurement or evaluation is an important element of developing policies and programs.

Policy Issue Identification

The first step to policy development is to identify the issue. The important element here is to make sure that you are describing the cause of a situation, and not the symptoms of that situation. For instance, if an area does not have enough housing that is a symptom of something. That something could be lots of unoccupied, purchased houses. In that case, simply building more houses would likely not fix the problem. Instead, implementing a vacant or foreign buyers tax would help free up this real estate.

Other steps in issue identification is deciding what policymakers will actually focus on. For instance, governments may be confronted with many issues of which only some are within their control. Of those that are within their control, they must choose a smaller number to work with, so as to not exhaust limited resources.

Finally, you must decide on issues that can actually be tracked. Returning to our National Strategy on Suicide, “Provide training to community and clinical service providers on the prevention of suicide and related behaviors” is a measurable goal that can be tracked as the number of gatekeepers reported increases.

Policy Issue Analysis

Issue analysis involved collecting data in order to really deeply understand the issue at hand. There are multiple stakeholders who may see a problem in a certain way. For instance if school children are performing poorly on statewide tests, teachers, students, school administrators, academics, local and state government likely all have different angles on the problem. Those angles will need to be explored in order to get a deep dive into the issue.

Comparing your region with other regions to see if they are struggling with the same issue. If not – how come? If they are struggling with the same thing, what have they tried? This can help you rule out models that may appear to be effective but actually don’t work in your area.

Lots of data may be available at the municipal, state or federal level depending on your area. For instance, Statistics Canada in Canada and the US Census Bureau both collect a variety of data, along with many other agencies.

The expression, “Garbage in, garbage out” is useful here – if your data collection is insufficient or slanted rather than objective, you will find that you have an impaired understanding of the issues and therefore your solutions will not adequately fix the problem.

Generating Solutions for Policy

Generating solutions involves defining a number of ways of answering the problem. This should begin with identifying the assumptions that underlie your solution or opinion, and then by indicating what changes would need to occur in programs, legislation, or implementations in order to allow the solution to proceed.

Each of the available solutions is going to have positives and negatives. Negatives may affect some stakeholders or many, and may have financial impacts on the government or on the stakeholders themselves. For example, environmental regulations may improve air quality in a town (and therefore reduce the impact of asthma), but with a cost on local industry. Detailed calculations would be necessary to evaluate the net impact on the area.

Examples of implications of policy from the British Columbia Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development (2012):

  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Geographic
  • Political
  • Environmental
  • Economic
  • Social

One final element in determining solutions is to identify the outcomes that will be measured and expected. In the example of children performing poorly on statewide tests, the rate of children passing the test in the region after the implementation of a new program may be one way to measure the effectiveness.

Policy Consultation

Although consultation is listed as the 5th of 6 policy analysis steps, in fact it will be throughout the entire step of developing policy. Consultation in a government setting will start with the Ministry (and often the Minister leading it) who will set the priorities for their Ministry.

As the policy takes shape, consultations will occur inside and outside of government, especially with affected stakeholders and lobby groups. The types of consultations can include distributing drafts, holding public “town halls”, private meetings, and so on. Many governments provide policies on their website and take feedback from the internet as well.

Policy Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring begins after the policy has been implemented. Like any program implemented by a nonprofit, government programs must be evaluated as well. The reason that performance monitoring is a preferred term is that some policies may not be evaluated in the same way that programs are, especially if the subject of the policy is very broad (e.g. affordable and clean energy.)

If a policy leads to the creation of specific programs, those programs will often have evaluations attached to them that can make for fertile performance monitoring. As an example, the National Suicide Strategy goal to train gatekeepers will lead to the expansion of programs like ASIST, safeTALK and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer). These programs can be evaluated for their effectiveness and the increase in trained individuals, in order to prove that the goal is being met.

Policy Writing Template

One example of a framework for an actual written policy is given by Young & Quinn (2002) at the Open Society Institute. Their review of common policy writing templates shows the following structure:

  • Title
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract/Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Problem Description
  • Policy Options
  • Conclusion and Recommendations
  • Appendices
  • Bibliography
  • Endnotes

This final document could be between 5,000 and 20,000 depending on the depth and the amount of background information provided. Shorter policy documents are more common for those distributed to the public while longer documents are used internally in government, or with other policy analysts.

Policy Writing Training

Training in policy writing is usually on-the-job. For instance, many beginning Policy Analysts get their start doing internships for governments. Most policy analysts hold Bachelor’s degrees however it is also very common to see individuals with Master’s or PhD degrees.

Relevant courses from Athabasca University that may help an individual become a policy analyst:

  • GOVN 403 – Public Policy in a Global Era
  • HIST 328 – History of Canadian Social Policy
  • HSRV 311 – Practice and Policy in the Human Services
  • HSRV 322 – Ideology and Policy Evolution
  • MHST 605 – Demysitfying Policy Analysis and Development

A Masters in Public Administration (MPA), Masters of Social Work (MSW) or MA in Political Science may also give the student the advanced analytical and writing skills required to work as a Policy Analyst. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) includes policy writing resources to help policy writers meet US government standards.

Policy Writing Courses

Policy writing courses are available that may help analysts build fundamental skills. Most of these are available through governments, rather than online given the limited audience for many of these organizations. Completing internships with governments or lobby groups may help aspiring policy writers gain access to this training.

References

British Columbia Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. (2012) Sharpen Your Policy Skills. Municipal Administration Training Institute (MATI) Foundations Program. Retrieved on March 31, 2017 from http://www.lgma.ca/assets/Programs~and~Events/MATI~Programs/MATI~Foundations/2013~Presentations/NICOLA-MAROTZ-Policy-Skills-Workshop-Manual-Revised-July2013.pdf

 

Manitoba Office of the Auditor General. (2003) A Guide to Policy Development. Retrieved on March 30, 2017 from http://www.oag.mb.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/PolicyDevelopmentGuide.pdf

 

Office of the Surgeon General (US); National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (US). 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action: A Report of the U.S. Surgeon General and of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Washington (DC): US Department of Health & Human Services (US); 2012 Sep. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109917/
United Nations. (2015) “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015 “. Retrieved on April 1, 2017 from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E

Young, E. & Quinn, L. (2002) Writing Effective Public Policy Papers: A Guide for Policy Advisers in Central and Eastern Europe. Open Society Institute (OSI). Budapest, Hungary: Open Society Institute. Retrieved on April 2, 2017 from http://www.icpolicyadvocacy.org/sites/icpa/files/downloads/writing_effective_public_policy_papers_young_quinn.pdf

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Introduction to Government Policy Development," retrieved on June 26, 2019 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/introduction-government-policy-development/.
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