EAPs Around the Globe Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 46 no. 1 - 1st Quarter 2016

The Journal of Employee Assistance had the opportunity to interview EA professionals in several countries about the state of EAP in their respective nations. The following is an edited summary of their responses.

Liliana Dias, Outcome – Clinica Organizacional, Lda., Portugal

Q: What are the major changes in the EAP field that you have seen in the past three years?

A: There has been an increasing demand for EAP services, as managers are becoming more aware of psychosocial risks and its impact on performance, well-being, and organizational resiliency. The European Safety and Health at Work Agency (EU-OSHA) and Portuguese government organized strong sensitization programs to improve working conditions and mental health.

On the negative side, the debit crisis limited organizations’ budget for training, development, and health promotion programs. In most companies mental health issues became evident, but the autonomy to intervene and search for support solutions reduced. The crisis was real, and it has impacted all organizational levels: social, economic, and psychological.

Another visible trend has been the growing mobility of human resources and the emergent need for EAP to respond to the expatriation process and increase its success rate. The business growth occurred outside of Portugal, and many companies had to expatriate up to 20% of their workforce to work on contracts in Africa and South America.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you currently face in your job?

A: Our greatest challenge is to gain new business and attain more growth in and outside Portugal. The last 11 years we have been working hard to establish our business as a local EAP provider for the Portuguese market. We have major Portuguese companies as clients, but there is still work to do in order to get added value recognition from top management teams and to increase the level of knowledge about our expertise as EAP consultants.

Considering the global trends in EAP business, one of our biggest challenges is to continuously differentiate ourselves from global providers and to offer specific and customized service-designed solutions – solutions that can’t be easily substituted by technology or other global provider affiliates.

Q: What is the number-one issue for which people seek help from your EAP?

A: People tend to seek help from our EAP due to traumatic incidents, stress, alcohol and drug abuse, but also performance and management issues. Clients have also contacted us in recent years requesting human resource management (HRM) advice, soft skills training, health promotion solutions, and psychosocial risk assessments.

Q: What is the greatest opportunity you see for the EAP field in your country?

A: One of our biggest opportunities is to grow within the Portuguese-speaking economy. We have been working for internationalization with large Portuguese client companies, to implement and share EAP practices and services in countries such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Macau, and Hong Kong.

There is an urgent need for EAP services and expertise in Europe, but also in growing economies. EAP will definitely grow outside the traditional US/UK market, but EAP needs to be adapted to each country’s economy, culture, and organization.

In the future it will be vital to focus more on prevention, consultation, training, and advisement than the traditional tertiary counseling and referral approach. EAPs will have to innovate and customize services and work closely with top management, thus becoming a strategic health and resilience partner for organizations.

Lourie Terblanche, PhD, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Q: What are the major changes in the EAP field that you have seen in the past three years?

A: First, I’d like to point out that the EAP industry in South Africa has grown tremendously over the last 30 years, as evidenced by a number of EAP service providers who have rendered services to corporate clients and government departments. Together this means that EAP has been offered to both public servants and private companies, some of which are initiating their own tailor-made EAPs.

More recently a number of government departments changed from the typical in-house model to an external/contractual model or a hybrid model. Some new service providers have entered the market, but the market is still dominated by a few large service providers. Corporate companies shop around after contracts expire, mainly because they are not happy with the services rendered.

There has been a strong development toward proactive services. Growing integration of EAP and wellness services is resulting in a blend of services, which have become increasingly difficult to administer due to the inability of professionals to comply with increasing demands. Also, shrinking funds for services has resulted in some EAPs not being maintained or services scaled back.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you currently face in your job?

A: The corporate world is becoming more demanding with regard to proof of return on investment; tender and contracting processes; and sophisticated contracts, which are requiring very specific skills to comply with; and demand for training is growing, while little development among tertiary institutions is providing such training.

Q: What is the number-one issue for which people seek help from your EAP?

A: Chemical dependency and a lack of skills in managing personal finances.

Q: What is the greatest opportunity you see for the EAP field in your country?

A: There is a growing need for expertise in monitoring and evaluation. However there is a gap in the market for an impartial body to provide monitoring and evaluation services to corporate companies, regardless of whether it’s utilizing internal or external EAPs.

Peizhong Li, PhD, Chestnut Global Partners, Beijing, China

Q: What are the major changes in the EAP field that you have seen in the past three years?

A: The most significant change I’ve seen in the EAP field in the past three years has been on the client side. In addition to multinational companies, Chinese state-owned enterprises are starting to adopt EAPs. In fact, they have become the main driver for the expansion of the EAP market in China, especially in terms of large contracts, thanks to their deep pockets. As a result, the major state-owned telecom, oil and gas, power generation, automobile, and steel-making companies are providing EAPs for their employees, as management becomes aware of the importance of employee wellness in developing and maintaining a healthy workplace and productive organization.

The type of services and method of delivery the state-owned companies want are different from the multinationals. Besides the core technology EA services such as hotlines and counseling, state-owned firms are keenly aware of incorporating psychological and mental health knowledge and skills internally. They accomplish this by having EAPs provide training and guidance for their internal staff to function as mental health and EAP advocates. State-owned companies are also ardent about having EAPs train their supervisors in psychological and mental health as a method of improving management.

Finally, state-owned firms are also interested in developing employees’ skills. As such, EAPs are requested to develop programs for employees in service industries (such as bank tellers) to improve their skills in communicating with clients. In summary, state-owned companies are interested in improving management with EAPs in addition to solving employees’ personal and clinical issues.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you currently face in your job?

A: That would be finding and retaining qualified staff, as qualified account managers and counseling and training professionals are in short supply in China. Most practicing counselors have not received master’s level training in psychology. One only needs to pass a written exam administered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Securities to become licensed in counseling.

Most of them take part in training programs of various lengths and levels in specific counseling methods after becoming licensed. Psychoanalysis is the most popular counseling method in China. The concept of empirical-based counseling methods is largely unknown among Chinese professionals. Also, professional organizations for regulating and supervising counselors are non-existent, as is insurance for malpractice. This situation makes it difficult for EAPs to find affiliates as business increases.
EAPs need account managers who can communicate with and win the trust of contacts in client organizations. At present, these managers typically do not have the competency and soft skills to work with high-caliber clients.

In addition, EAPs usually do not offer the salaries and benefits as multinational and state-owned companies. This is another factor that makes it difficult to attract and retain account managers.

Q: What is the number-one issue for which people seek help from your EAP?

A: Marriage and family problems, especially intimate relations and parenting. In Chinese society family relations are very important for personal happiness and mental health. However, rapid social and economic changes in China have created a lot of stress, which manifests itself in all aspects of people’s lives, although it is felt most acutely in conflicts between spouses, romantic partners, and between parents and children.

The high cost of living in major cities makes it difficult for young people to find partners for marriage. Scarce resources for high quality higher education and a very competitive job market make parents put an unreasonable amount of academic pressure on their children at an early age. These factors all make family life and relationships more difficult than usual.

Q: What is the greatest opportunity you see for the EAP field in your country?

A: EAPs have great opportunities for expanding into health management. The vast majority of employers already pay for their employees’ annual checkups and offer health-enhancement programs. However, there is a need to make these programs more systematic and effective, such as smoking cessation, health risk assessment, and health coaching.

The Chinese are also resistant to disclosing psychological and mental health problems to strangers, including professionals. Presenting EAP as a holistic wellness program that covers both physical and mental health may ease some of the effects of the stigma associated with mental problems. This approach is also a better fit with clients’ health and benefits systems.