Putting the ‘F’ in EFAP

Educating employees about benefits for family members enhances value proposition
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/22/2016

Most employee assistance plans (EAPs) provide a host of benefits and resources not just for employees but for their family members as well. The question is, do employees know that?

There has been a key shift in employer communications around EAPs — or EFAPs, employee and family assistance programs — aimed at informing employees of the full value of these resources, according to Janet Salopek, partner at Salopek & Associates in Calgary. 

“Ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, you didn’t really hear about EFAPs — it was always EAPs. So it’s really interesting how our terminology has changed, and also the way we communicate the benefits based on who we have in the workforce,” she says. 

That shift in the terminology is telling, says Lori Casselman, assistant vice-president of integrated health solutions at Sun Life Financial in Toronto. 

“There is a shift that we’ve been seeing around the use of EFAP rather than EAP,” she says. “It varies by provider.

“The inclusion of the ‘family’ in the name is important because then it’s more intuitive for the employee. So I think that’s an opportunity for employers as well, regardless of the nomenclature the vendor or the provider is using, for the employer to use the terminology around ‘employee and family assistance program.’ It helps with the understanding in the employee group.”

Sun Life often sees employers that have a number of resources and supports in place for employees and their family members, says Casselman. 

“But it is fairly common that employees are not aware that that resource or benefit extends to their family members,” she says. 

“Ultimately, that goes back to the value of communication and education on the employer’s part around the resources that they are sponsoring and investing in to support employees.”

It’s also an interesting subject because it’s not just about EFAPs — it’s about the full value of your benefit plans, says Salopek. 

“And it’s not just about the employees, it’s about their families as well, so communicating that and making sure that family members also understand that (is important),” she says. 

One of the big things organizations are doing now is providing a benefits statement, and making sure employees understand the benefit in terms of what it provides them, says Salopek. 

“So what are they entitled to, what are their families entitled to, but also the cost of that benefit so that they understand the value in what that service provides them,” she says.

“Many organizations are now communicating through the benefits statements as one communication prong to get it out. But you need to be doing this and keeping it in front of employees in other ways as well.”

Employers need to have a comprehensive communications plan to ensure employees are thoroughly aware and educated around the resources they have access to, says Salopek. 

“You need to include articles about your EFAP programs and those benefits in your newsletter. Any opportunity that you have with respect to maybe blogging online… lots of organizations now have an employee portal where employees can go in and access information about their job, their position, but also their benefits. So making sure that you have really good information on your intranet so that employees can access it through their portal.”

It’s also good to let employees know how the enrolment process works and keep it as simple and straightforward as possible, says Casselman. 

“It’s a fairly seamless process. Typically with employer-sponsored EAP programs, it’s a matter of just using the web platform or the call-in which is typically a 1-800 line, and then referencing the employer… along with the code or password or whatnot that has been provided to the employee to get access,” she says. 

“For the most part, it’s just a matter of the employee themselves sharing that information… Then the access is pretty readily available.”

Engagement, retention benefits

Once employees understand the nature, value and scope of the benefits they have access to, it can have a very strong positive impact on retention, engagement and loyalty, says Casselman. 

“From research that we’ve done and work that we’ve done… for example, in our Canadian Health Index research, 93 per cent of Canadians indicated that they are looking for the employer to play a role in helping them to manage their mental health. And so I think for employers, just that general knowledge and understanding that there’s such a strong appetite and desire on the part of employees to get that assistance and to be able to reach out through the employer for those resources, I think that’s an important message,” she says. 

“Employers who really understand the value of these types of programs and that need that they’re hearing from employees (should) really be thinking about a strong, frequent, regular communications plan so that employees know that resource is there for them and their family members.”

Sun Life has taken that same sort of model or approach with many of its other health and wellness offerings provided to plan sponsors or employers, she says.

“Things like education programs or some of these other tools around health management, we extend that to family members as well.

“We’re very conscious that with health behaviours and health management, that group effort or family effort and family support is really key to success.”

Employers should capitalize on any opportunity to include family members, says Salopek. 

“The other thing I think is important when we’re communicating is that every opportunity we have — where it’s relevant — to actually bring family members in to educate is really important. So if you’re having let’s say an information session for your employees, and if you create an opportunity for them to bring family members in and have somebody come in and talk about the EFAP, that’s pretty powerful,” she says. 

“What we know about the people that are in our workforce, the generations in our workforce, is that our millennials are very family-oriented — they strive for that work-life balance. So family, family time off, is really, really important to them. And to the extent that organizations can include them, can get the message out there that your families are important, that will actually help you keep millennials in your workforce.”

An EFAP is about the total health of the employee, which includes the family, says Salopek. 

“That’s why the EFAP is so aligned with the values of our millennials, and a perfect way to be able to speak to the values of that generation.”

There’s an opportunity as well to provide information about what types of resources actually are available, says Casselman. 

“There’s often this sense that it’s just access to psychologists, for example, if there’s a mental health issue of some sort. And the reality is EFAPs have really broadened the types of offerings that they now have available. So those counselling services, definitely, around mental health issues. But also extending to, for example, legal issues or financial issues. There’s all kinds of depth and breadth in the types of counselling services that are available.” 

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