I had the privilege of attending a people in need forum hosted in my county. During the sessions, I heard courageous stories from people who have overcome personal challenges to lead successful lives. One of the biggest struggles many of them faced was not knowing where to turn to start.
As I sat there, I thought about the numerous times during the course of a year managers are presented with employee challenges where they feel helpless to assist. You know the ones. Employee comes to you to tell you that he is filing for divorce. Employee telling you about the behavior issues she is facing with her child. Employee telling you he may not be able to make the rent payment this month. Often times, these conversations turn awkward with the employee walking away feeling like their organization only cares about their production and not them as a person.
Being in human resources, I have routinely assisted these employees. But this is not just HR’s job alone. As concerned organizations, it is the entire leadership team’s responsibility to understand resources available to help employees in need.
There are in-house and community resources every member of an organization’s leadership team should learn about and understand at least at a high level.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
While not every organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), those that do should understand all of the benefits it offers to employees. Some typical services include helping the employee deal with marital, financial or emotional problems; family issues; or substance or alcohol abuse. EAP’s are an easy-to-use resource for managers. Referring employees in need to the EAP’s 800 number or website and giving them a private place to start the process while at work gives them access to resources they need and shows how you as their manager are invested in them as a person.
EAP programs are underutilized by employees, partly because they do not know they exist. According to a 2016 industry trends report, the usage rate of EAP programs is around 6.9%. Way too low for all of the value an EAP can bring to employees and organizations,
Organizations that do not have EAP’s may want to consider looking into their benefits. Most EAP’s are an affordable option to help your employees in crisis, costing on average a couple of dollars per employee per month. There are many EAP providers. Here are some large and small provider options: ComPsych, Perspectives, Ltd., and Advantage Behavioral Health. Check with your insurance carrier as well as they may offer an EAP as a value-add for their customers
In-house programs to assist employees
Pay attention to your company perks! Some employers offer programs in-house that help their employees in need. These could include loan programs or emergency assistance funds, onsite nursing or medical facilities, wellness programs, exercise programs, and lunch and learns for personal enrichment programs. (Watch for our upcoming blog on lunch and learns.)
When implementing these types of programs, it is best to set some type of parameters to ensure all employees are treated fairly in their accessibility and availability of the programs. For programs that deal with giving the employee money to help their situations, implement guidelines and procedures regarding eligibility, amount available, length of agreement, and repayment if applicable.
Why reinvent the wheel where there are organizations already offering great options? Companies large and small offering programs directed at employees who have a personal needs include:
- Google: Massages, yoga, and back-up childcare assistance
- Ernst & Young: Working parents’ network and concierge services
- Hallmark: Monthly career-boosting sessions and a company carpool
- Centro: Meditation programs and access to a nutritionist
- Redwood Logistics: Transit benefits and cell phone discounts
While not all of these may not be doable for your organization, it is worth examining at least a few to see how they align with your culture and the budget.
Mental health resources in your community
Mental health issues impact nearly all businesses at one point or another. While managers should not attempt to act as counselor, they should be able to point the employee to community resources.
While HR often is the gatekeeper of these resource referrals, members of the leadership team should be aware of option in case others are not are not around to help. Examples of ways to find resources in your community include your county’s mental health office, National Alliance of Mental Health Illness (NAMI), and Mental Health.gov.
Some counties, as the one I live in, offer an annual forum where many community social service organizations come together to share their stories and service offerings. Even if not every manager may have direct contact with these agencies, a master resource can be created and made available through the company’s intranet as a tool that can be used by employees.
I cannot tell you how many times in my career I have been approached by employees in need of legal help, but can’t afford an attorney. If your organization does not offer legal resources to employees or services are not available through your EAP, there are local groups that offer pro bono services based on an employee’s income level. In Illinois, one nonprofit that offers these services is Prairie State Legal Services. Check your state for a similar service group.
If an employee is look for quick advice, an online resource available is freeadvice.com that includes an “ask a question” option to a lawyers’ forum. A resource to find a variety of online legal services or legal directory guides is through consumeraffairs.com
With many employees lacking financial literacy and personal emergency funds, it is easy to see why these life stressors can directly impact employees’ daily work performance. Groups like Consumer Credit Counseling Services give employees the information and assistance they need to make better financial decisions and strategies for budgeting and saving for the future.
Employers may also want to reach out to their 401k providers as well. Often, they will be able to provide a session on the basics of investing or even one-on-one services for individual employees. These folks often serve as guides for employees’ financial advice.
Without assisting employees in need with resources and connections, we are doing a disservice to employees. Good employees faced with a crisis often watch their work performance suffer, become isolated, and sometime turn to behaviors such as lashing out and stealing that would not typically be part of their character. Resources offer hope and a chance. We owe it to our employees to at minimum give them that.
Are you as a leader comfortable with these types of conversations? If not, what type of training would you recommend to become a better resource connector for your organization?