Bridging the Generation Gap


The Journal of Employee Assistance had the opportunity to interview EA professionals about how the profession can ensure that EAP is relevant to their younger clients, both in the U.S. and in other countries. Below are their edited responses. 


JEA: Many EAPs probably view traditional ways of offering EAP services as being sufficient. In other words, “What I’m doing right now is just fine. Why should I change?” With that in mind, how would you respond if a “non-technological” EA professional asked you why they need to alter their approach to reach younger people in need of EAP?


Grace Ding, CEAP, Shanghai, China: The younger generations are in fact our main client base in China. In fact, with the growth of technology, new service approaches are used to take over the older ones. Only offering “off-line” services would be considered insufficient. However, since EAP is a new profession here in China, the average age of counselors is also quite young. We don’t have concrete statistics, but it’d be reasonable to say that the typical age is less than 40. Since these counselors are quite familiar with technology, I am not worried that any non-tech counselors will be left behind as they perceive their clients’ needs – they will try to improve. 


Jenny Espinoza, LCP, EAP, LatinA Corp. S.A., Program Manager – Mexico: To start, I would say that you can’t reach the future with the same mentality that brought you to the present. Consider the evolution of mobile phones, or social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Millennials are very comfortable with these platforms, even though there is a lack of personal contact at first. Knowing this helps us understand how phones, for instance, cease being a relevant means of communication for younger people. Certainly, this will vary from country to country and even client to client. In Latin America the phone is still the main form of access for EAP users, but we have begun to see how younger clients – especially IT and banking companies – prefer to send emails to be contacted and request assistance. We must reinvent ourselves using new approaches.


Michael Klaybor, Ed. D, CEAP, NCC, Houston, Texas: We need to be proactive about advancing the profession, not keeping the status quo. There are features or elements of the EAP field that are essential and “non-technological” such as face-to-face contact with employees, but the winds of change are blowing toward technology. EAPs need to embrace social media to be relevant and stay in sync with what is happening with communication via text, video-conferencing, and interacting with Twitter to access the relevant channels that are now a standard in society. The laws are also changing for licensing with Distance Credentialing Counseling certifications. There are excellent resources for questions about ethics, HIPAA, and online etiquette that are readily available.


Paul Lockhart, Shepell, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (with contributions from Shepell colleagues Kelly Beaudoin and Barb Veder): In our study, The digital age: How people are accessing EFAP services, we found that young Canadians (ages 18-39), who are the highest users of the Internet, favor online access. This age group also happens to be the most frequent users of EFAP, so by offering digital access, you are meeting the preferences of your target market. Although digital technology will never replace in-person counselling, there is no doubt there is a great potential for the adoption and development of digital technology with the EFAP industry, and for expanding EFAP’s capacity to provide anytime, anywhere services to users via channels that best suit their learning styles, lifestyle and work-life circumstances. (* Kelly Beaudoin and Barb Veder with Shepell also contributed to Paul’s responses.)


John Pompe, Psy.D, SPHR, Caterpillar, Peoria, Ill.: EAPs need to evolve as business changes and as people change. But in terms of technology and the basic infrastructure of EAPs, we are still the same. We communicate the same. We promote EAP the same. The access points are the same, and service delivery is the same. We may, by sheer luck, remain relevant while the world shifts under our feet. But do we really want to rely on luck? 


Michelle Zadrozny, LMSW, Austin, Texas: If a provider does not have a website or tech-savvy ways of engaging, they may give the impression that they are out of touch or the help-seeker will simply lose interest and look for someone who they can connect with in the way that THEY like to engage. “Evolve or Die” is the motto that many membership organizations are finding they must embrace to be relevant to new and upcoming generations. 


JEA: How would you suggest that EA professionals go about trying to get younger people to use EAP? List several specific recommendations.


Grace: This is a bigger concern for smaller vendors and individual professionals than for large EAP service providers with IT departments. Still, technology can be used in different ways: From marketing and sales, to service provision, to after-service feedback, there are multiple new approaches that can grab the attention of our busy clients and meet their needs. 


Jenny: Use simple and colorful pieces, which contain little text, yet can be found intriguing. Creating an expectation campaign before providing the actual service would be ideal. The intent is to invite them to be on the look-out for future announcements, benefits, etc. Also, Millennials tend to avoid reading long messages. Therefore, communication must be striking and rich in visual content. Appropriate font sizes, shapes, and colors need to be considered. Short video clips ranging from 30 seconds to one minute are other possibilities.


Michael: Become comfortable with technology beyond email. The newer generations don’t even use email as primary communication. We need to broaden our familiarity and use of Facebook, LinkedIn, video conferencing, blogging and screen sharing for presentations. Also, TeleMental Health is expanding with apps for health monitoring, and interactive online assessments, including groups, chat rooms, and others. EAPs need to build an infrastructure to meet employees where they are. We need the capacity and ability to reach this generation of digital natives or we’ll become extinct. 


* Paul: As but a few examples, online programs resonate strongly with males between ages 18 and 39, which is in keeping with a study by Ellis, Collin, Hurley, Davenport, Burns & Hickie, 2013, which found that young males (ages 16 to 24) prefer to go online and find self-help interventions. In addition:

* First Chat, our chat service provides instant and easy confidential support, and resonates in particular with users under age 39 and especially with females.

* Also, provide tools that are compatible with a variety of devices – laptop, smart phones, and tablets.


John: First, keep in mind that the ultimate goal needs to be altering our practices to connect with more diverse clients. Several ideas include:

* Promotions and communications that meet young people where they are: social media, electronic delivery of information, pictures and short messages.

* Services need to be delivered through alternate means: text, email, FaceTime / Skype, telephone.

* Longer sessions need to be one option, and not the rule. Clinicians will need to have more contacts with their clients, but in shorter bursts at all hours. For instance, 20 texts per week with a client, rather than one 50-minute, face-to-face session.


Michelle: We need to create a case for EAP with the younger workforce sector as a whole, before we can engage younger employees. In Austin, we have lots of small tech companies mostly made up of younger workforces who value new ways of engaging their employees in wellness initiatives. Most of these folks have never even heard of EAP – although they should because most of these same employers have fully stocked fridges with beer, etc., but are not engaged in any prevention activities. There is a HUGE opportunity here if we can figure out new ways of connecting and creating the value proposition.


JEA: For those who aren’t that adept at technology, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Social media? Video counseling? Something else? If you had to suggest the ONE best means for an EAP to get started down the technological road, and hopefully building from there, what would that be? 


Grace: An example would be the use of two-dimensional bar codes. With the social media platform Webchat, each account has a two-dimensional bar code. You can print it on your name card so people can scan it and add you as a friend to read articles you uploaded, to book an appointment, and to reach out for feedback. We create our own EAP account on Webchat, print the bar code on adhesive paper and stick it on tables for manufacturing workers to scan into their smart phones. This is very simple, and you do not need a huge investment.


Jenny: There is resistance in the first years of any transition. People have progressed from traveling to an office to pay their phone bills, to making that same payment online. This is a simple example, yet it shows that it is just a matter of knowing how to sell the advantages and ease brought on by a new means of communication. The most important point is to offer options that take into account your own social and technological environment. Partnerships are perfect allies. Search out experts to create win-win situations.


Michael: First, find what inspires you. Then, learn the skill sets you need to advance the EAP profession in your workplace. 


* Paul: It is difficult to suggest one best means for an EFAP to kick off a technological journey as each has its own benefits and suitability to an organization. Some of the factors that need to be considered include cost, available technology, and ability to service alternate channels, and confidentiality and regulatory compliance. From our experience, in our year-to-year studies on digital access, we found there was a significant shift, almost 6%, from traditional EFAP modalities to digital modalities such as chat, video and online programs. 


John: First, look into the legality and funding model for services via email, text, FaceTime and phone. Also, learn how to communicate through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Kik. Finally, affiliates need to reconsider the 50-minute session for select clients. 


Michelle: Don’t fixate on the type of technology. Instead we need to ask ourselves how we can continue to add value to a profession that is aging rapidly, losing traction to nebulous wellness programming, and experiencing a lack of meaningful employer presence. Technology is a TOOL to help us accomplish our goals, but it is not the goal itself, and we need to remember that. If someone has a floundering practice, technology alone is not going to save it, but it certainly can be a step in the right direction to educate yourself about new tools to help increase efficiency and compete on a more level playing field.