The Changing Face of EAP

 

By Leah Szemborski

 

An employee emails her EAP’s general inbox with personal details about the struggles she’s facing in her life. She concludes the message by asking if there are any online resources available as she is too busy to come in for an appointment. A request like this is quite common today.

In the 2014 State of MultiChannel Customer Service report, 35% of the 1,000 surveyed consumers said they had asked a question related to customer service via social media, and over half replied that the response gave them a more favorable view of the brand (Parature, 2014).

Consequently, if the EAP can find ways to engage this employee online, this client will likely walk away from her EAP experience satisfied and helped. On the other hand, if the EAP insists she come in to the office, or talk on the phone, the client may very well decline using the EAP’s services.

The current generation of employees expects and demands online interaction from the services and products they use — and that includes EAP.

 

The Changing Workplace

The U.S. Census Bureau (2012) states that the number of people 65 and older will more than double by 2060. This means that current employees are retiring at a record pace and are being replaced by a generation of people who work, think and connect much differently than their predecessors.

The Facebook Generation (also referred to as Generation F) is a conglomeration of people from several generations including Generation Z, Generation Y and even Generation X. The Facebook Generation has been born into a digital age in which social media is the primary networking tool. They believe it is no longer acceptable to offer a phone number as the only point of access to goods or services. In other words, EAPs that don’t have an online presence are compromising their utilization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “Social media also helps to reach people when, where and how they want to receive health messages; it improves the availability of content and may influence satisfaction and trust in the health messages delivered” (CDC, 2011, p. 1). Utilizing social media as a line of communication can build relationships and trust with an EAP client base, but only if the social media venues are used effectively.

 

Going Social

Before an EAP decides to jump on the social media bandwagon it’s imperative to have a plan. First and foremost, people want to be heard. Daniel Newman, founder and CEO of BroadSuite, discusses the importance of conversation in social media: “If your business wants to focus on connecting and building closer relationships, then it is less about what you share on social media and more about how the things that you are sharing are driving meaningful conversations” (Newman, D, 2014, para. 5).

How can a counselor engage the employee who emailed her EAP asking for online resources? They might suggest their EAP’s website, blog, or Pinterest board and they may invite the employee to follow them on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates, articles and tools. (It is important to note that confidentiality must always be a main consideration. When replying to email be sure to include an email disclosure policy stating expectations and limits of electronic confidentiality, and NEVER engage in electronic counseling without proper consent and encryption.)

The counselor might conclude the message with an invitation to follow up via phone or appointment. By offering online options, the EAP is inviting the employee into a meaningful interaction outside of the counseling office. Once employees have established a relationship with their EAP online, they may feel much more comfortable coming to the office for an appointment

 

Don’t Overlook Websites

Regardless of whether or not the client chooses to make an appointment, there are many ways to serve clients through online media. First, do not underestimate the usefulness of a simple website. A site can be an invaluable tool that is often overlooked and underutilized by many EAPs:

 

* A website can host a myriad of tools for clients to access with a click of a button. Many people look to a company’s website for an address and directions to the office.

* From there they may begin to browse the site’s content — counselor bios, links to community resources, mental health blogs, handouts, videos and more.

 

Listen to What Prospective Clients Want

When it comes to online content, more is better as long as it is easily accessible, simply navigated, relevant and interesting. How can an EAP find out what content is relevant and interesting to prospective clientele? By listening. Find out what social media sites your client companies are using and start there.

Newman says to, “restrict your activities to two or three channels and invest time in reading through discussions, listening to user-generated content, and understanding current interests.”

Nothing turns a prospective “follower” off more than unapologetic marketing. Instead of blasting your message, initiate conversations by replying to posts, asking questions, and inviting input. The goal is to actively engage people in meaningful interactions so that they begin to trust your expertise and authenticity. They will remember to come to you first when they have a personal, family, or work problem they need help with.

 

Getting Started

There’s no question that building an online presence takes time and effort. Here are some tips to get started:

 

* Start small. Do some research to find out what platforms your companies are on, and begin an EAP profile on one or two of those platforms. 

 

* Search for people and organizations that your EAP can follow. They might include others in the industry, experts on various topics, local news, resource organizations, or advocacy groups. Often one link leads to another, so take some time to browse.

 

* Engage in conversation. Reply to a comment someone else made. Pose a question and ask others to weigh in. Post a link to your website and ask for feedback. Be creative in finding ways to connect with others.

 

* Post relevant, timely information but never without your own commentary. If you decide to post a link to a really great article or blog, make a comment about what makes the article so good and why others should read it. Remember, people are looking for a personalized connection, so be sure to show some personality!

 

* Create your own content. You know better than anyone else what the common presenting problems are in your EAP. Generate content to meet those needs! Blogs are a great way to offer expertise through social networking, and are easy to set up and maintain. If time is an issue skip the blog and post shorter, expertise-based pieces directly onto social media sites. Don’t forget to utilize your website as an online forum.

 

* Include a call to action. Whether it’s a request to visit your website, an offer to receive online newsletters, or an invitation to call or email your office, it’s important to let people know how to take next steps in connecting with your EAP.

 

* Actively monitor social sites. It is important to be cognizant of ethical guidelines and ensure confidentiality is being maintained at all times (Lannin & Norman, 2014). EAPs must be mindful of the content they post and the footprint it leaves (Greyson, Kind, Chretien, 2010). Does content accurately reflect the mission and values of your business? Are posts free of personal biases and demeaning language? Has confidentiality been compromised in any way? Be sure to evaluate all content to be sure it promotes your intended message and abides all legal and ethical considerations. 

 

* Provide quick response. EAPs must be timely in responding to any comments, criticisms or questions from customers or clients. Social media happens in real time and Generation F does not want to be kept waiting.

 

Summary

Though interactive websites and social networking sites can increase and enhance EAP services, it does take a significant commitment of time and creativity to stay socially connected and provide frequent updates, articles, comments, pictures and content.

It’s ok to dabble in social media, but the real payoff will come when EAPs make a committed effort to actively utilize and maintain social interaction on a regular basis. At a minimum try to post at least a few times a week—but more is better when it comes to social networking.

Making EAP relevant to the Facebook generation is fairly inexpensive, and in a tight economy can be a smart strategy for promoting business while still cutting costs (Kirtis & Karahan, 2011). However it does take considerable time and effort. Fortunately the reward is worth it — better rapport with clients, higher utilization rates, and increased customer satisfaction. 

 

Leah Szemborski, MS, LPC is an Employee Assistance Program counselor, consultant and educator as well as a member of Generation F. Leah specializes in interpersonal dynamics and works with groups to leverage engagement for positive interactions, both in workplace and family settings. She invites you to connect with her on LinkedIn, or contact her at Leah.Szemborski@MinistryHealth.org.

 

References

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Office of the Associate Director for Communication. (2011, July). 

The health communicator’s social media toolkit. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/SocialMediaToolkit_BM.pdf 

 

Greysen, S. R., Kind, T., Chretien, K. C. (2010, November). Online professionalism and the mirror of social media. Journal of General Internal Medicine; 25(11): 1227–1229. 

 

Kirtis, A.K., Karahan, F. (2011). To be or not to be in social media arena as the most cost efficient marketing strategy after the global recession. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences; 24: 260–268. 

 

Lannin, D.G. & Scott, N.A. (2014, February). Best practices for an online world. APA Monitor on Psychology; 45 (2).

Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/ce-corner.aspx

 

Newman, D. Social business is rooted in conversation, not platforms. (2014, December). Social Media Today. Retrieved from: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/social-business-rooted-conversation-not-platforms-0

 

Parature, a Microsoft Company. (2014) State of Multichannel Customer Service Survey. Retrieved from: http://ww2.parature.com/lp/report-2014-state-multichannel-cs-survey-comm.html 

 

United States Census Bureau. (2012, December). U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing, Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-243.html