Maybe work isn’t your happy place

Maybe work isn't your happy place

Not long ago, a study reported that a substantial number of people were found to have lower levels of stress hormone while at the office than when at home. This finding downplays the stress at the workplace. To be more precise, men were the ones more likely to experience stress at the office than home.

But it doesn’t discount the fact that people still experience stress at the workplace. As many as 20% of those polled in a 2013 HPB survey reported high levels of job stress. That’s 2 in every 10 employees. And almost half of those polled in a separate survey (comprising at least 400 employees per country) reported a lack of job satisfaction. More disturbing is the finding that over half of those polled in a recent LinkedIn survey would consider sacrificing a workplace friendship for promotion. That spells for a happy workplace. Not.

Although job stress often surfaces from employees managing heavy workloads, there are many other factors which impact employee engagement. Things which managers and supervisors play an enormous role in shaping. Things like team dynamics, personality clashes, and leadership styles.

Here are 10 ways line managers can help:

1. Social support
A Gallup poll found that engaged employees were more likely to have friends at the workplace. Line managers play a role in cultivating a work culture which encourages friendships. Look here for tips.

2. Work-life balance
Employees are more likely to be engaged and productive when their leaders value sustainable ways of working, which includes supporting work-life balance. A HBR survey reveals that it’s important for leaders to practice what they preach. It’s a tune that’s getting more airtime these days.

3. Find ways to get active
We all know why we should invest in moderate to vigorous exercise three times a week and incorporate fruits, veggies, and whole grains in our daily diet. It does wonders for our cardiovascular health. It protects against dementia and certain types of cancer. But workplace health programmes may not always stress a key benefit (no pun intended). Exercise is the key to managing stress levels. Here’s an incentive for line managers to support the Get Fit programme at the office!

4. Find time to relax
Research supports the view that engaging in relaxation activities helps us manage our stress. A recent INSEAD study shows that spending just 15 minutes focused on breathing enabled people to make better decisions. Another recent study shows that creative pursuits are an effective way to recharge and destress. Daily practice of a relaxation method resets the threshold at which we get angry (Goleman, 1998). Findings that extroverts relax more easily than introverts suggests that we need to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all way to relax. 

5. Assertive communication
Exercise is an excellent way to get back into a good mood. But we’re probably not going to be running a treadmill or smashing a ball against the wall when given extra responsibilities at work. There are no appropriate moment to go “en garde”. Or signal for us to put on the boxing gloves. We can however learn to say no. Line managers have the responsibility to encourage staff to practice assertive communication.

6. Sleep is underrated
Sleep is not just for those who party hard. It’s for those who want to learn, solve problems, remember things, and make good decisions (here’s the science). What’s more, sleep is the anti-aging treatment. But you’ve heard this many times over. But did you know that exposure to blue light which your smart devices emit in large quantities makes it more difficult to get to sleep quickly or to get good quality sleep? It’s time to tell your staff to switch off their devices and get more REM and deep sleep – essential for enhancing job performance (tips at the end of this article).

7. Use your Employee Assistance Programme!
Family conflict affects relationships at the office, not just at home. A recent study shows that conflict at the home causes employees to react negatively to co-workers and to use fewer adaptive strategies (e.g., social support, assertiveness) at work. Another study shows that mood affects productivity. Those coping with a difficult life event (e.g., bereavement, illness in the family) make more mistakes when adding two numbers together than those not experiencing such an event. Those coping with life events also report lower happiness and productivity ratings than their peers. Managers in organizations with an EAP can encourage staff to use their EAP to tackle work-related and/or personal problems. Recent research indicates that “organizational support programs, which aim to improve employee well-being, are not being used by the employees who need them most”.

8. Training evaluation
A 1997 study showed that an in-house time management training programme, which enhanced employee’s capacity for impulse control and for regulating their own emotions, had a 1989% return in a 3-week period. It’s noteworthy that employees were not given generic, practical tips but instead encouraged to manage their emotions. Most importantly, the organization measured outcomes in terms of employee performance (e.g., rated by co-workers, line managers) not satisfaction with the training programme.

9. Organizational structure
It’s not hard to see how workplace harrassment can negatively impact employee well-being and physical health, in turn affecting productivity and employee engagement. But a recent review of the literature indicates that workplace harrassment does not arise from just personality clashes alone. The way an organization is structured may make it easier for bullying to take place. So it’s ever more important now than before that senior management explicitly supports respectful behaviour.

10. Self-care
Fair bosses are the best! They produce engaged employees and productive companies. But they’re prone to burn out (evidence here). So self-care is imperative for managers and supervisors. That is, doing all the above themselves. This includes: “getting sufficient sleep, taking short mental breaks during the workday, adhering to a healthy diet and detaching from work completely when outside of the office”

Bosses, take note!

Life in the fast lane

Life in the fast lane

Today online (18 June 2014) reports that “almost half of Singaporeans are dissatisfied with their jobs”. And The Straits Times (7 May 2014) said not long ago that one in five feels very stressed, which is consistent with the 2013 Gallup survey which reported that only 10% of employees polled felt passionate and motivated about their work. There’s a very slim possibility that they’re related. Just a thought

That means lots of people could be experiencing burnout at work (check if you’re experiencing the symptoms of burnout here).

Between having too much on your plate at work and having too much to do at home, it can be hard work trying to find the time to de-stress.

So we put together a wish list to help you join the “thriving at work” crowd:

1. Get really active!
It’s easy to think, “what’s the point in finding time to exercise? I’m already so emotionally drained. Exercising is just going to make me feel more exhausted”.

But exercise actually helps your muscle relax. More importantly, exercise helps to regulate levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in your brain, helping you experience more positive emotions (Craft & Perner, 2004).

Not surprisingly, exercise lowers stress levels, improves life satisfaction, psychological mood, and mental wellbeing (Atlantis, Chow, Kirby, & Singh, 2004Coulson & McKenna, 2008Daley & Parfitt, 2011Parks & Steelman, 2008), and effectively reduces anxiety, depression, and absenteeism (Bhui, Dinos, Stansfeld, & White, 2008).

Time to join that in-house workplace fitness programme! But if that’s not your cup of tea, there are many other exercise options. And for those with strong views about the unnecessary evils of exercise, consider some fun alternatives!

2. Sleep is crucial
Sleep is probably the top thing on your list of things to do. But strangely enough, getting good quality sleep isn’t always quite the walk in the park you thought it’d be.

But getting good quality REM and deep sleep means a more efficient brain the next day, with positive outcomes for learning and memory (here’s the science stuff).

Sleep (particularly when used in combination with #1) helps us maintain our psychological mood and mental wellbeing. Not convinced? Try these for bedtime reading: NIHAPAHBR.

And if you drank too much coffee, try fitting in a nap. Even better, cultivate some good sleep habits.

3. Learn to switch off
Get into the habit of not checking your mobile devices on the weekend. Plan your holidays in places with limited wifi or dodgy mobile phone reception! The reasons are pretty straight forward (read this article: Straits Times, 9 Dec 2013).

4. Rethink your communication style
Assertive communication is key to managing your stress.
“Being assertive shows that you respect yourself because you’re willing to stand up for your interests and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you’re aware of the rights of others and are willing to work on resolving conflicts.” – Mayo Clinic. Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively.

5. Seek out a workplace mentor
It’s also possible that you’d fare better at work if your line manager gave you recognition for work well done. And if you had a mentor to help you improve your job performance and provide career guidance.

6. Support a collaborative work environment
You’d be also much more motivated about work if you had rapport and a relationship built on trust with your line manager. Having friends at the workplace and your team is a key driver (MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training). But it works both ways. Successful managers need to also care about their employees: They need to practice active listening, focus on their employees’ strengths, and provide constructive feedback to their subordinates.

7. Get some professional help
Getting insight into solutions to a personal or workplace problem with a professional counsellor through the employee assistance programme at your workplace could help you move forward. You don’t need to have a crisis to seek help. Counselling can be a useful resource for identifying your source of stress and prioritizing potential solutions for addressing the problem (here are some tips).

Managers could benefit from executive coaching to identify and meet specific and short-term (even immediate) goals to solve work-related issues. Studies indicate that a cognitive-behavioural solution-focused approach improves mental resilience, psychological wellbeing, and stress levels.

8. Don’t forget to fit in some time for relaxation!
Relaxation techniques are effective for managing stress because they help bring your central nervous system back to equilibrium.

“When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.”http://www.helpguide.org

Mindfulness is all the buzz right now. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to relaxation. Business Insider has some unique ideas, though you may prefer a more conventional approach such as gardeningYoga and tai chi may suit those wanting to raise their heart rate at the same time, while having someone hit all your acupressure points certainly appeals to many.

Happy Labour Day!

Take your vacation time!

You’re planning to spend your May Day holiday at home on the sofa with the TV. And you just got up a few minutes ago to meet your friends and family for a lazy brunch and are now admiring the herons and boats that don’t belong to you at Keppel Marina.

You’re automatically checking work email for updates while at brunch (your fingers move faster than your brain can say “stop doing that”). And starting to feel cranky (when are my eggs benedict arriving?) and are already looking forward to returning to the sofa to do nothing all afternoon.

If you’re doing all that, instead of posting selfies at some exotic location and creating social envy mayhem on facebook, it probably means that you didn’t quite make it to planning a trip away for this long weekend break.

But it’s not too late. There are still approximately six months left in the year for you to make time for some rest and relaxation. Here are some ideas:

1. May
Blue tiger butterflies congregate in the valley at Datun Mountain in the Yang Ming Shan National Park, Taiwan from April to May. It’s an easy 40 min bus ride from Taipei Main Station (rapid transit) to the park.

2. June
One of the world’s best dive site, Sipadan which is off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, is best visited in the dry season – between April and Nov/Dec. Turtles, fishes, coral, rays and sharks are the reason to go diving there. Visitors can stay at Semporna on the coast. Visitors need to take a 2.5 hour flight from KL to Tawau, and then catch a ride from Tawau to the village. A hundred and twenty divers are allowed each day (no limit on non-diving visitors) at Sipadan which is 40 mins by speed boat.

3. July
Tapirs, among other wildlife including trogons and broadbills, are most easily spotted at mineral licks in the Taman Negara National Park, Pahang, Malaysia during July, the peak of the dry season which lasts from March to October. Travel involves a 2 hour coach ride from the Pekeliling Bus Station in KL to Jerantut, and another 1 to 1.5 hour bus ride to Kuala Tahan, the local village nearest to the park.

4. August
Day lilies bloom and cover the Sixty Stone Mountain in Hualien county, Taiwan from August to September. Express trains take 2 hours to get from Taipei Railway Main Station to Hualien.

5. September
Peak egg laying season is July to October for Green and Hawksbill turtles at Turtle Islands, off the coast of Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia. It’s a few hours to fly from the capital KL to Sandakan via Kota Kinabalu in Sarawak.

6. October
It’s not the school holidays so October is a good time for a trip to Fraser’s Hill, Pahang, Malaysia. It is also migratory bird season and Fraser’s Hill has much to offer, from local trogons and broadbills to siamang and gibbons. Visitors can follow a tour or hire a car to get to the bungalows on the hill.

7. November
Migratory season for shore birds fleeing from the harsh winters to the Mai Po Wetlands in Hong Kong starts late October. The journey to the wetlands involves a 1.5 hour MTR ride to Sheung Shui station from Central, a 50 min bus ride to the nearest bus stop, and 20 min walk to the nature reserve.

8. December
The cool and dry season for Hanoi, Vietnam lasts from November to April, making December a relatively cool month to visit Halong Bay. Attractions include pristine beaches and boat tours of picturesque limestone towers which dot the bay.

9. January
It’s getting colder in the northern hemisphere. And the beginning of new year resolutions to exercise and smell the roses more. It’s a splendid time to visit these Unesco sites. The royal palace, Pha Bang, and the 16th century wat in Luang Prabang, Laos is one for the culture vultures. Scholars of Southeast Asian civilisation will want to visit the 8-9 AD temples at Borobodur, Java, Indonesia, as well as the palace in Java’s cultural capital, Yogyakarta.

10. February 
February is the dry season in Khao Yai, the big mountain, in Thailand and a good time to go hiking for gibbons, elephants, and hornbills. It’s 2.5 hours by bus from Mo Chit, the northern bus terminal in Bangkok to Pak Chong, the nearest town to Khao Yai. Gaurs are said to be more easily spotted though in the dry hot season in March to April.

11. March
If you’re waiting till March, you can visit NATAS!

Not to belabour the point, but it’s important to say no to work (APA has some pointers). Everyone needs a holiday to recharge and reap the benefits of exercise and fixing their sleep deficit. And if you haven’t got enough leave, take a short break instead (why? read this article).

So no time like the present. What are you waiting for? Get planning!

Ways to motivate your employees

Ways to motivate your employees

Ways to motivate your employe

A 6 Dec 2013 news article in the Straits Times (“S’pore staff ‘not engaged’ at work“) reports “three in four workers” in Singapore to be disengaged at work. Based on results from a recent Gallup poll, the findings highlight the need to provide workers with recognition for work well done and career advice, among other things (see these five tips from Gallup). And there’s also much to be said for having fair bosses (“Who Goes to Work For Fun?“, New York Times, 11 Dec 2013) and a work culture which encourages employee autonomy (“Fashion own model of work efficiency“, Straits Times, 21 Oct 2013).

We offer a few more ideas for motivating employees at the workplace (some being a bit more unusual than most):

1. Get a coffee machine

You’ve heard the news. Caffeine is good for memory (“Caffeine pill ‘could boost memory'”, BBC News, 12 Jan 2014). The ability to remember and recall things was superior for after having caffeine. (We might think we would perform better at a memory task if we, habitual coffee drinkers, drink coffee. For example. But that’s not the case because participants in this recent study were given a caffeine pill. So it’s purely the effect of caffeine not our perceptions about the benefits of caffeine which boosted memory abilities.)

2. Decorate the office with a sofa

We know from bitter experience that drinking too much coffee after noon can keep us from falling asleep at night. And there’s research to support this idea (“Late afternoon, early evening caffeine can disrupt sleep at night”, Science Daily, 14 Nov 2013): The study shows that drinking coffee even as early as 6 hours before bedtime lessens sleep duration by an unperceptible extra hour of sleep. A powerful 10 minute snooze could potentially help the genuinely soporific employee continue his or her productive day: But first, one must of course know how to nap.

3. Incorporate green spaces at work

A new study reports better mental wellbeing among those who relocated their homes in a greener urban area (“Green spaces deliver lasting mental health benefits”, Science Daily, 7 Jan 2014). Those rooftop gardens and squares of lush greenery won’t just benefit residents in high-rise flats. They could have benefits for office workers too.

4. Encourage employees to switch off

According to a recent study by Expedia, employees in America, Korea and Japan don’t take full advantage of their personal leave, while an overwhelming majority among employees in Malaysia, Thailand, and India who do take their personal leave, spend a substantial amount of their vacation time checking and responding to work emails. Because making time to destress has positive benefits for our mental wellbeing, it’s helpful to have a work culture where employees can go on vacation without checking their work inbox. Better still, encourage them to aim for a destination (see The Guardian for suggestions) with limited wifi or mobile phone reception!. And not surprisingly, this is already corporate policy at some workplaces: “Companies act to avoid costly burnout” (Straits Times, 9 Dec 2013).

5. Keep meetings to the point

Have employees do less. Gasp. Not more. That’s the current school of thought. It says we should resist adding more things to the To Do list of skilled workers (read this Economist article, “In praise of laziness“, 17 Aug 2013). We could be so much more productive if meetings were facilitated by a moderator mindful of time and the agenda. And if emails were restricted to convey information rather than a day-long ping-pong match which could be boiled down to a 15 minute conversation over coffee or tea. And we could be leading rather productive lives without email ping-pong. It’s old-fashioned, but talking does have its place.

6. Work hard, play hard

While technology allows us to work anywhere, it may have damaging consequences. A recent UK study reported in Daily Science found that work overload was closely related to compulsive use of the internet (and signs that they were experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, as well as isolation), while another recent report (“Smartphones may harm productivity at work, study finds“, Today, 27 Jan 2014) indicates that checking mail after office hours disrupts our ability to attain adequate rest, which in turn affects our performance at work the next working day.

If we had a reason to leave work on time (because we need to get to that social dance event, french grammar class, blues-jazz jam session, wine tasting date), we would probably be more efficient during our work day. If our co-workers were hanging out together for dinner and after-dinner drinks (or dessert), we would have shorter lunches. If our manager or team leader were to be also going to the same gym class or badminton game, we might check facebook less, spend less time planning holidays and shopping online during work hours, and be more punctual at clocking out.

7. Green Fridays

It’s easy for employees to exercise on the way to work in non-tropical climates. Even though we have climate-controlled buildings and the weather’s been impressively cooperative (in the low 20°s Celcius) in the more recent weeks, it’s still not really conducive for a brisk walk to the office. Unless there are shower facilities there. Casual Fridays is far from rampant, and Sweatpants Fridays seems unlikely to take off here (“Working wear on Friday? No sweat, boss!“, Washington Post, 3 Jan 2014). But for those still open to the idea of being healthy at least once a week, Fridays could be the day to have everyone go for a walk after office hours and the day for eating one’s own pack lunch of fruits and vegetables.

recent study shows that corporate wellness programmes help those with a chronic illness, and a lower rate of absenteeism. But having a workplace wellness programme (particularly one that incorporates an employee assistance programme to address employee mental and emotional wellbeing) is only the first step. Cultivating a corporate culture which helps employee engagement benefits the employer and stakeholders in the longer term. 

Confidentiality is key

Young Woman Sitting Looking at Laptop Screen

There is increasing awareness about the need to support the mental wellness of employees at the workplace.

NEA and CPF were reported to be the “…latest to offer counselling services to staff” (Straits Times, 28 Oct 2013). Their efforts to provide their staff with access to paid-by-company counselling services are to be lauded. But as the author of a letter to the forum points out, the telephone as a platform for counselling is far from ideal (“Limitations of telephone counselling”, Straits Times, 29 Oct 2013).

There is a reason why the best practices guides (e.g., Buyer’s Guide by EAP Association, Buyer’s Guide by EASNA, Buyer’s Guide by the UK EAPA) recommend face-to-face counselling as an integral component of a comprehensive employee assistance programmes (EAP). While workplace telephone counselling provided by masters-level mental health professionals has been shown to have some effectiveness, it is noteworthy that telephone counselling was less helpful than face-to-face counselling for individuals experiencing poor psychological wellbeing (read this APA review for details).

There may be relatively less stigma for employees to access telephone counselling services, but “it has serious limitations as a clinical tool, including the absence of the ability to ‘see’ nonverbal cues from a client” (APA Monitor). Counsellors in a face-to-face session, in contrast, have the opportunity to show interest, concern, respect, receptiveness and support through direct eye contact and open body language. Indeed, research indicates that counsellors need to adjust their strategies for establishing rapport for a televideo conferenced counselling session (e.g., appropriate and careful placement of the videocamera, the use of gestures for taking turns to speak, increased use of nonverbal cues such as nodding and smiling).

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are designed to “improve and/or maintain the productivity and healthy functioning of the workplace, through the application of psychological principles, including specialized knowledge and expertise about human behaviour and mental health”. That is to say, EAPs support the mental wellness needs of employees by providing them with access to confidential counselling services, as well as education and awareness activities such as mental wellness talks, all of which are paid for by their employer.

And EAPs can only work if employees know about them. Knowing that one can seek help from a professional mental health professional is essential, if employees are to use EAP and if employers are to benefit from having employees who are more engaged at work.

But there is one thing even more important than telling employees that there is an EAP at work. Knowing that counselling services are completely confidential is the most important aspect of the EAP. Providing employees with assurance about the confidential nature of the counselling service is key to employees using their EAP.

Employees should know that all information shared would only be released with their written consent (see the limits of confidentiality from this APA FAQ). Even the fact that an employee has consulted with EAP should not be disclosed to his or her employer. Responsible employers will want to know how many employees used the service (to ascertain if it is useful) and the employees’ satisfaction with the service (to find out if employees felt counselling was helpful to them), not which employees used the service.

 

What counts as a supportive workplace?

Bullying, Harassment

Close to a quarter of workers in Singapore reported themselves to have experienced workplace bullying last year, according to figures from a 2012 JobCentral survey which sampled over 2,200 local respondents.

Going by the www.bullyingstatistics.org definition that workplace bullying involves receiving unreasonable, embarrassing, or intimidating treatment from one or a group of co-workers, manager/supervisor, or employer, it would appear that employee experiences documented in the JobCentral survey—verbal abuse, personal attacks, being ignored—can be deftly grouped as workplace bullying. But there is also the concept that the behaviours are repeated and persistent (HRM Asia, 1 Oct 2013; cf. the definition of bullying in the context of school-age children).

Clearly, a workplace which tolerates bullying is highly unlikely to win the award for most supportive workplace environment. In contrast, having a zero-tolerance policy and a workplace violence prevention policy (here’s a sample policy from SMEToolkit), as well as workplace training programmes for managing aggression (here are some tips from Yahoo! News, 23 May 2013), are signs that your employer is working towards providing a supportive environment. Having clear guidelines and an explicit zero-tolerance policy at the workplace regarding sexual harassment (this article in SimplyHer, March 2011 suggests a plan of action) and online harassment (nobullying.com suggests a firm policy against cyberbullying) are essential components of a supportive workplace.

A supportive environment at the workplace is more than receiving free fruit, having exercise balls instead of chairs, pocket money to buy yoga mats, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, shower facilities, and a staff canteen ever ready to dish out chor bee (unpolished rice) and whole-grain-beehoon for lunch (though these are nice to have). It’s a social environment in which we’re free to focus on the job at hand without having to worry about psychological cold war at the office and unfair distributions of workload and responsibilities among team players.

And we’re only going to be engaged at work if our work environment is safe. Remind your bosses of that on this International Day of Happiness…in case they forgot.

Coping with stress at the workplace

Performance pressure and work overload are theme songs sung in workplace surveys (e.g., JobCentral, Robert HalfVMWare New Way of Life), while staff turnover are evergreen issues in high stress professions like nursing (Chan & Morrison, 2008) and teaching (Fang & Wang, 2005; 2006).

Coping with workplace stress is no new stranger to nurses and teachers. In a study of 780 UK teachers, Griffith, Steptoe, and Cropley (1999) have observed that greater use of active coping, as well as greater social support such as from family and peers, is associated with less self-reported job stress. Austin, Shah, and Muncer (2005) have further demonstrated that teachers who use escape-avoidance or accepting responsibility strategies report higher levels of stress. A report on 415 secondary school teachers in Hong Kong reiterates these findings (Chan & Hui, 1995): avoidance coping relates to burnout. Teacher coping strategies clearly play a role in workplace resilience.

In a study with a local sample, Boey (1998) reports coping strategy to influence resilience in nurses experiencing high levels of stress. Nurses who reported greater use of problem orientation, ability enhancement, and change of perspective and less reliance on avoidance coping, reported greater job satisfaction than those who reported using these strategies less. Similar to the findings with teachers, active coping appears to benefit nurses compared to avoidance strategies, which can be viewed as maladaptive.

A study with a sample of 316 participants by Ko, Chan, & Lai (2007) reveals similar coping strategies among local teachers. In a book chapter in “Work Stress and Coping Among Professionals”, the authors report the most frequently used coping strategies to be active coping (scrutinizing and trying to solve the problem, analyzing the problem to prevent it from happening again, working harder to deal with the problem) and accepting responsibility (accepting and living with the problem, looking on the bright side of things). While local teachers appear unlikely to use escape-avoidance strategies (having a drink, smoking), it is noteworthy however, as discussed by the authors, that direct-action coping may not be helpful for problems outside the control of the individual. Importantly, seeking professional help is a coping strategy rarely considered by this sample.

In addition to training interventions which improve the employee’s ability to cope with routine stress, there is support for the view that professional counselling can be beneficial as well. A number of studies have shown that implementing a cognitive-behavioural intervention is better than relaxation training and no intervention control at decreasing teachers’ stress levels (Tunnecliffe, Leach, & Tunnecliffe, 1986; Cecil & Forman, 1990).

A more recent study of 124 secondary school teachers in Hong Kong has found that providing teachers with cognitive-behavioural stress management training to be more effective than a waitlist control at getting teachers to use more stress management behaviours, and therefore reducing the level of their occupational stress (Leung, Chiang, Chui, Mak, & Wong, 2011). Moreover, when faced with life difficulties such as bereavement and mental health concerns, teachers may however benefit from help provided by a professional counsellor. Psychological help such as EAP counselling services have in fact been recommended for teachers who report a high level of job stress (Yang, Ge, Hu, Chi, & Wang, 2009).

Mental wellness education and psychological support for employees in high stress environments such as teachers and nurses are instrumental in the battle against burnout and staff turnover.

No idea that we had an EAP!

The benefits of corporate wellness programmes range from a return-on-investment or ROI of US$6 to a decrease of up to US$6 in health care costs.

An 2009 EASNA research note by Attridge and colleagues documents an ROI of US$3 to US$10 for every dollar invested in an employee assistance programme. Similarly, analysts in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article report a US$6 savings in healthcare costs for every dollar spent on employee wellness programmes, while recent data from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans for their Wellness and Value-Based Health Care survey revealed a US$1 to US$3 decrease in overall health care costs for every dollar spent on wellness programmes.

However, no organization can possibly reap the benefits of an EAP or corporate wellness programme if employees aren’t aware of the programme in the first place. As Miller asserts in a recent article for the Society for Human Resource Management“communication is the key to wellness success”.

Azzone and colleagues (2009) report that employees use EAP counselling services when their employers actively promote EAP services. Others make the cogent argument that periodic communication with employees to evaluate client satisfaction with EAP services not only demonstrates the value of the programme, but raises employee awareness about EAP services (Moore, 1989; see also Frost, 1990). As noted in a review by Merrick, Volpe-Vartanian, Horgan, and McCann (2007), employee awareness of EAP services and confidence in the confidential nature of EAP counselling are key to EAP utility. This is demonstrated in an empirical study sampling participants from six worksites: Trust and confidence in EAP services reliably predicted EAP utility (French, Dunlap, Roman, & Steele, 1997).

EAPs are only as effective as the efforts that an organization (and its EAP provider) makes to ensure that employees are aware about EAP services and the confidential nature of EAP counselling services.

What’s the return on investment for EAPs?

“The typical analysis produces an ROI of between $3 and $10 dollars in return for every $1 dollar invested in the EA program.”

That is what Attridge and colleagues have reported for the Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA) in a 2009 research note, first published in their “Selecting and Strengthening Employee Assistance Programs: A Purchaser’s Guide” publication.

In a study of university employees with the majority having access to face-to-face EAP counselling services, Phillips (2004) found improvements in work productivity for 59% and 62% of 704 and 1,206 cases from 2002 and 2003 respectively. The data published in Employee Assistance Quarterly revealed an ROI of 3.5:1 and 4.3:1 in 2002 and 2003 respectively (Phillips, 2005).

Another empirical study sampling employees with access to face-to-face EAP counselling services demonstrated less absenteeism and improved work productivity for 50% of 882 cases (Kirk, 2006).

In a paper presentation at the 2003 APANIOSH Work, Stress and Health Conference, Attridge (2003) reported improved an average 43% gain in work productivity for 57% of 11,909 cases from a national EAP provider supplying counselling services mostly by telephone.

A more recent presentation at the 2007 Employee Assistance Professionals Association Annual Conference, Baker (2007) documented reduced presenteeism: Based on 3,353 cases from an national EAP provider supplying telephone counselling, low-productivity days were reduced from an average of 30 days to as few as 3.4 to 8.0 days, resulting in an average gain of 58% in work productivity.

In addition to recognition that effective EAPs produce greater work productivity, better employee engagement, less absenteeism, less presenteeism, and reduced turnover, it’s gratifying to know that the return on investment for EAPs isn’t different from that reported for corporate wellness programmes: Berry, Mirabito, & Baun reported in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article that “every dollar invested in the intervention yielded US$6 in health care savings”.

The dollars and sense of EAP services

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide psychological services such as professional counselling to support the mental wellness needs of employees at the workplace.

The implementation of corporate wellness programmes and/or EAPs has been linked to benefits such as better job satisfaction and reduced absenteeism (Parks & Steelman, 2008; Czabala, Charzynska, & Mroziak, 2011; McCleod, 2001; see also McCleod & Henderson, 2003), lower levels of stress and greater use of stress management techniques (Czabala et al., 2011), and employees reporting fewer  difficulties with work due to mental and emotional health issues (Selvik, Stephenson, Plaza, & Sugden, 2004). Specifically, these studies have evaluated workplace promoting mental health programmes and documented their benefits at the level of the individual employee.

Specific programmes to teach employees strategies for stress management have also been found to be effective in reducing stress levels and increasing stress management behaviours. Specifically, stress innoculation training (Cecil & Forman, 1990) and cognitive-behavioural training (Tunnecliffe, Leach, & Tunnecliffe, 1986; Leung, Chiang, Chui, Mak, & Wong, 2011) achieve these for teachers, who perennially report  high levels of occupational stress (Austin, Shah, & Muncer, 2005; Griffith, Steptoe, & Cropley, 1999). The value of promoting workplace mental wellness to the individual is evident enough.

Stronger support for workplace mental health promotion can be found in the figures that workplace stress costs businesses each year. Productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee a year, or $225.8 billion annually (Stewart, Ricci, Chee, & Morganstein, 2003). A meta-analysis by Baicker, Cutler, and Song (2010) computes a fall of about US$3.27 in medical cost and a fall of US$2.73 in absenteeism cost for every dollar spent on a wellness programme. Another meta-analysis of 56 studies by Chapman (2005) reveals an average saving of 25 to 26% in absenteeism and health costs from wellness programmes.

In a report for the Harvard Business Review, Berry, Mirabito, and Baun (2010) distil the solutions for effective workplace wellness programmes. They comprise good management leadership, alignment of the programme with organizational culture and vision, implementation of a comprehensive wellness programme, affordability and accessibility of the programme, good rapport with providers/vendors, and good communication of the wellness message.