It is time for Australian businesses to take a good look under the hood of their current EAP offering.
Poor employee health and wellbeing is taking a significant toll on Australian businesses. A 2021 Return on Action report published by Atlassian shows nearly 70% of employees say they would consider turning down a job promotion in order to preserve their mental health (3).
More than one-third of 1,200 workers (37%) report their employer is their main source of mental health support (4), so it is alarming that, according to the Australian Employee Assistance Providers (EAP) peak body, 90-95% of Australian workers do not use the incumbent service offering (5).
When it comes to what service offerings are needed by employees to manage their health and wellbeing at work, 2021 Future of Work Report by PwC found management and employees differ on what employee’s wellbeing needs are (7). The Productivity Commission believes systemic low utilisation has become the norm because many businesses procure EAPs based on what meets their own needs (8).
“Whichever way you want to look at it, there is clearly a yawning gap between workers needing help versus those who are using EAPs,” CU Health cofounder and Neurologist Dr Patrick Aouad said.
“To add to the challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed gaps in the quality and availability of mental health resources. Good people are falling through that gap every day of the year.
“Innovation in technology has led to improvements in the assessment, treatment and counselling services being delivered directly and effectively via telehealth,”
“With 2.8 million working Australians suffering from mental illness and 4.6 million living with at least one chronic illness, employees can access multidisciplinary practitioners to address their health more effectively.”
Putting in place a 360-degree whole person health program demonstrates that boards and management are appropriately managing the wellbeing and safety of their team. Dr Aouad said.
High performing teams should not only be reserved for business
As mental and physical conditions are often intertwined a multidisciplinary approach to health, including dedicated General Practitioners, Clinical Psychologists, Dietitians and Registered Nurses help the ‘whole individual’.
Whole-person healthcare is able to care for common ailments and conditions such as fatigue, neck or shoulder pain, insufficient sleep, back pain, headache, common cold and flu, insomnia, anxiety and diarrhoea or constipation which studies show contribute to 30% decline in professional performance (1).
Whole-person wellbeing programs focus on early intervention of physical and mental ailments and conditions and equally aim to strengthen physiological health significantly reducing risk while allowing for higher performance and engagement.
CU Health GP Dr Dorothy Yue said mental health cannot be treated separately to physical illnesses and conditions, as they directly impact each other and often have the same symptoms.
“For example, low energy, poor sleep, the sensation of your heart racing or a dry mouth are evident in depression and anxiety, but also show up in other medical conditions such as diabetes, iron deficiency, thyroid problems, obstructive sleep apnoea and an irregular heart rhythm,” Dr Yue said.
“Lifestyle changes as a result of mental illness or stress can also lead to obesity, substance abuse, increased cholesterol and blood pressure, all of which are associated with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
“Looking after employees’ health as a whole, allows us to investigate the true underlying cause of the symptoms which are contributing to an individual’s poor health.
Clinical psychologist and Psychology Clinic Director at University of Technology Sydney Dr Alice Shires said a holistic approach is required.
“A lack of 360-degree support means that employees are more likely to ignore symptoms and exacerbate undiagnosed conditions, which can negatively impact not only their health, but also their productivity and presenteeism at work.
For example, an individual with severe depression will often have a lack of motivation, poor energy and poor decision making. This can result in withdrawing from self-care activities such as a good diet, regular exercise, social connectedness and adequate sleep. This can result in painful conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), tension headaches and back pain.”
“Research has shown that mental illnesses are associated with an increased risk of cardiometabolic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease at a rate 1.4-2.0 times higher than in the general population (9)”
“To maximise the effectiveness of wellbeing programs we need to provide pathways for behavioural change and lifestyle interventions using a combination of exercise, diet, improvement in sleep and helping people quit smoking and reduce drinking. (10) Dr Shires said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revitalised the employee health and wellness industry and paved the way for a redesign of programs to align care with employee’s needs. New participants are using evidence-based healthcare and technology to uplift employees and deliver higher returns to organisations.
By providing whole person health solutions to their employees, businesses are able to shift the dial on workplace culture and have significant positive impacts on creativity, collaboration, and resilience.