Last month I had the opportunity to present at the Employee Assistance Program Association (EAPA) International Symposium in San Diego. My presentation titled Grief in the Workplace: What really happens in the 21st Century brought to light the challenges of the real world today when an employee has experienced a significant loss, family setback due to illness, accident or personal struggle, or when a workgroup experiences a loss of a co-worker.
Often times, the reality of the situation does not align with a company’s policies and procedures. While an EAP has the ability to offer well-trained individuals to support employees based on individual needs, frequently there is a breakdown in communication, timing of services and the need for a company to maintain “business as usual.” Having worked with hundreds of individuals and companies, I often heard, after the fact, from both employees and management– “if only I knew …” or “if only they had ….”
In a perfect world, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all managers and Human Resources personnel were trained in best practices to assist an employee who is struggling from a personal situation? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if an employee felt comfortable reaching out to an EAP or was aware of the programs offered by their company’s EAP?
What I learned from the symposium, my personal experience and employee perspectives was that the expectations from an EAP are not always aligned with the needs or expectations of an employee. While most EAPs provide a robust menu of benefits, many employees still consider an EAP a place to go when dealing with a dependency such as drugs or alcohol, which was evident based on the sheer number of such exhibitors at the symposium. In reality, an EAP offers a full array of products and services that most of us don’t realize are available to employees. In addition to not knowing what programs are available to employees, many employees question the confidentiality of an EAP. Privacy is a legitimate concern since an employee may fear that their management may learn about personal challenges they are experiencing.
My take-away is straightforward: companies need to improve their communication to both management and individual employees regarding the benefits available to employees through EAP services. In addition, employees themselves need to ask what services are available to them as part of their company-sponsored EAP.
As a motivational speaker, grief consultant, trainer and facilitator, Rachel Blythe Kodanaz provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss. Her experience in management at Fortune 100 companies and the death of her young husband provides insight into challenges and solutions supporting grief in the workplace.. Rachel is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A comprehensive guide for being prepared; Living with Loss, One Day at a Time; and has appeared on Good Morning America.