This is an extremely important mission, and EAPs are uniquely positioned to deliver on it, but I think we should be doing even more.
We should be going beyond simply repairing the damage caused by organizational stress by addressing some of the underlying causes.
Of course, we can only move toward this goal in partnership with the enlightened leadership of organizational clients who recognize the productivity and health benefits of mitigating the debilitating effects of organizational stress.
Such leaders understand that individual and organizational health are interdependent and that workplaces with high levels of organizational stress increase their risk of many undesirable business outcomes including:
- Increased employee resentment, anger, fatigue and absenteeism
- Diminished teamwork and coordination between departments
- Problems in customer service and product quality areas
So what can EAPs do to help prevent some of these problems caused by organizational stress?
We can help them develop systematic processes to groom and train mid-range professionals in the communication and emotional intelligence skills which are so vital to success in leadership positions.
Unfortunately, companies frequently skip this step and simply throw strong individual contributors into management positions without adequate preparation for the very different kind of responsibilities they will face in managing people.
The compelling advantage that EAPs have over other training vendors in fulfilling this mission of preparing individuals with excellent professional content expertise for the demands of leading others, is that we remain connected with the organization long after the formal training program ends.
EAPs are available for follow up consultation and coaching that helps insure that what was learned in the training room is applied consistently in the real world of managing day-to-day business issues. EAPs retain a relationship with, and are available on an ongoing basis to, the individuals they have worked with in training sessions.
I can’t speak for all EAP companies on this matter, but I can say with certainty that our firm would much rather help managers acquire the skills necessary to help employees succeed than to repair the damage caused by their not having these skills.
I don’t mean to say that EAPs should move away from the mission of helping employees deal with stress.
We should remain dedicated to our core service of helping employees with individual counseling as well as offering stress management programs which teach coping techniques like mindfulness, relaxation, thinking differently, responding more assertively and cultivating better self-care habits etc.
However, we should acknowledge that a well-trained manager is the first line of defense against the cycle of stress and dysfunction caused by rudeness, poor communication, impatience and unfairness.
Developing well-trained managers, who understand the basics of individual motivation, is the most effective strategy for cultivating engaged employees and reducing burnout, anger and stress.
EAPs have a vital role to play, both in raising awareness and in providing the leadership consulting and training that advance this prevention strategy.