EAPs flounder without manager support

Managers need to be trained about EAPs to make programs more effective

Employers too often ignore the need to train managers about employee assistance programs, a recent study of 154 Canadian organizations shows.

About 40 per cent of employers studied by Rick Csiernik of the University of Western Ontario in London, say they provide no EAP training.

“The absence of such training makes the program less cost-effective and limits the benefits to plan members,” says Csiernik.

“It’s a huge problem,” agrees Gerry Smith, vice-president of organizational health with Toronto-headquartered EAP provider Warren Shepell Consultants.

“The biggest sellers of EAPs in an organization are managers and supervisors,” says Smith, adding that they need training to play this role.

Managers require training to help them spot signs of poor mental health, including addictions. They must understand the EAP referral process. And their buy-in must be sought.

They must also become comfortable with the human side of the EAP process — confronting staff with concerns.

“Lots and lots of managers are uncomfortable when they see a problem,” says Smith. “It means saying, ‘You’ve been drinking and you’re not fit to be working.’ It’s tough to have that conversation.”

Situations like these can lead to employee violence, another reason supervisors may be reluctant to confront the problem.

Smith says managers must get coaching on how to handle situations, which includes things such as positioning your chair by the doorway for an easy escape.

Organizations must understand options such as HR, security or even police involvement in a potentially explosive confrontation. In addition to providing yearly training courses, EAP providers should be available to consult with a manager before the person goes into a difficult meeting with an employee, Smith says.

The people skills of an organization’s managers are a big part of the equation, says Smith. Unfortunately, people are often promoted to supervisory positions without concern for their people skills, and this means they aren’t good at recognizing or dealing with behaviour problems. But they can be trained, says Smith.

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