Over the last few years, human resources have been valued as an integral part of any business. With institutions now heavily dependent on the contribution of their human resources in terms of meeting goals and targets, it is essential that employers value their employees and keep them motivated for increased commitment and competence.
As organisations expand and increase the size of their workforce, employee problems – both personal and job-related – tend to multiply and can affect motivation and productivity. Balancing work and family life and coping with transition has become a great challenge for almost everyone. Employees, regardless of their position in the organisation, may face a variety of problems in their daily lives. Usually, most of these problems can be worked out but sometimes they may become too much for individuals to handle on their own. Such unresolved issues may begin to affect personal happiness, family relations, performance at work and even physical health.
An ‘Employee Assistance Programme’ (EAP) is an option which can help employees cope with their problems by providing quick access to professional help. Over the years, EAP has proved its worth to organisations by assisting in the identification and resolution of personal or work-related issues that may affect productivity and overall job satisfaction, as well as the employee’s personal well-being.
Confidentiality is the cornerstone of EAP and is integral to its success. Programme owners should ensure that no information regarding the nature of the personal problem is made available to supervisors or included in the employee’s personnel file.
Besides being confidential, the programme should be voluntary, designed in such a way that allows employees to seek help on their own. In some cases, supervisors may advise employees to seek help or conduct orientation sessions about the benefits of EAP but they should never impose the programme. One critical aspect that should be communicated to users of the programme is that EAP is not the solution to their problems; its objective is to provide guidance and support to those seeking help in coping with challenges.
This programme is common now in the West and it is expected that employers in Pakistan will soon also realise its importance as a component of an overall employee health programme. EAP is considered good business practice as it inculcates in employees the feeling of being an important resource to the organisation.
Aga Khan University (AKU) recently introduced EAP to provide confidential short-term counselling and support at no cost to employees whose problems interfere with work performance. It is ensured that participation in EAP has no effect on an employee’s future career advancement or employment. At the same time, however, it does not protect an employee from disciplinary action if sub-standard performance continues. Services rendered currently by AKU’s Employee Assistance Programme include:
- Short-term counselling to assist employees in evaluating the nature of their problems and to help them resolve the same with a view to improving work performance;
- Consulting and educating managers and supervisors train employees in the identification and resolution of risk factors, evaluation and referral processes, and development of communication pathways for reporting disturbing and dysfunctional behaviour;
- Under its referral system, EAP refers clients to individuals/organisations that offer professional support, advice and treatment that best match the client and his/her needs;
- For maintaining work/life balance, a counsellor helps employees by providing advice and tips on day-to-day activities which can have a positive impact on family/work life.
The benefits of EAP experienced so far include guidance and support in the early identification of problems that negatively affect employees’ work performance, outlining a structured procedure to handle employees with problems, serving as a motivator to managers/supervisors to develop an interest in their employees, and an impact on employee loyalty and stability.
In conclusion, when the mental and emotional well-being of the employee is promoted, there is a general increase in productivity, quality of work, cooperation and creativity – all conditions that are conducive to forming a respectful workplace. This benefits both the individual in his or her job satisfaction as well as the employer since all these traits are essential to a successful and thriving workplace.
Manager, Employee Relations and HRIS
AGA KHAN UNIVERSITY