For many people, work is a source of enjoyment and personal satisfaction, and an important part of a generally happy life.
Others are not so fortunate.
With many companies and national economies still struggling to cope with low growth, employees are facing long working hours and anxiety about their jobs. The result is often stress and depression, which leads to low productivity, low morale and psychosocial illnesses. “The financial crisis of 2008 has clearly had an impact,” explains James Malia, Director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services UK. “But we live in an era of constant change and that too brings stress, whether it’s triggered by job uncertainty, moving offices, company mergers, the impact of technology or new business models.” According to studies, work-related stress costs Europe $650 billion and the United States $300 billion, while poor health in the workforce generally is estimated to cost the global economy 10-15% of its total output.
The fear of saying ‘I have a problem’
Yet even these figures do not reflect the true extent of work-related stress and depression. More than a third of employees living with psychosocial conditions are not open about their illness in their workplace, according to a study by AXA PPP Healthcare. Many staff members are afraid they would be judged negatively by their colleagues (30%) or managers (24%) if they were open about the state of their psychosocial health. Another 22% are worried it would harm their career prospects and over a quarter feel embarrassed about their condition.
Bringing worries to work
But if a poor work-life balance can be damaging, the quality of employees’ lives outside work can also have a detrimental impact on their performance. Relationship problems, money worries and a variety of health issues can leave people struggling to cope – and therefore ill-equipped for a busy working day.
Employee Assistance Programs: Help when it’s needed
In response to these different challenges, companies are increasingly deploying Employee Assistance Programs. EAPs not only address the issues that employees face during their working hours, but also the life events outside work that lead to stress, anxiety and depression. Support can be made available by phone, live chat or one-to-one counseling, with the digital era making many of these services available from a smartphone app. “EAPs are becoming hugely important,” says James Malia. “Companies want employees to come to work, focus on their jobs and be productive, while employees like to feel that their company cares for them and wants to help. And with an EAP, that help is available at 2.00am in the morning or while they are at work. What’s more, managers can use the service to get advice on how best to deal with a team member who is in difficulty. Overall, the return on investment can be significant.”
Sodexo and EAPs: Where help meets market expertise
As the world leader in quality of life services, Sodexo provides a range of EAPs to help clients and its own people with their work-life balance. “In the UK, we work with a third party to offer different levels of support – with a helpline for the initial contact, typically about 6 to 8 telephone counseling sessions, face-to-face meetings, or on-site help for a major incident,’ says James Malia. “EAP counselors provide an immediate, shorter-term service, and act as a bridge to other health professionals for issues that might require treatment over many months or even years.”
For its own employees, Sodexo Supports Me is an information and counseling helpline for staff and their immediate families. Free and confidential, it is staffed by expert advisors and counselors, covering the full spectrum of work/life balance challenges – family issues, wellbeing, housing, work and money. By operating EAPs for its own people, Sodexo not only improves the quality of life of its employees, but also gains expertise in the design and deployment of programs for its clients.
Employee Assistance Programs have an important role to play in supporting workers during difficult times. Simone Perretti, EAP Product Manager Brazil, explains how Sodexo Benefits & Rewards Services is helping hundreds of companies across the country.
What’s the situation facing employees today in Brazil?
SP: The economic crisis here has affected people at work, especially in big cities, where they people face a combination of low quality of life and a high cost of living. Many employees are over-worked, given aggressive goals, and face long commutes to work and back. In Sao Paulo, for example, the mental health index is that of a country at war. Absenteeism due to psychosocial issues is clearly on the rise. And the statistics are telling: Brazil has the world’s fourth highest diagnosed cases of depression; 24% of families have debts; divorces have risen 160% in the last decade; while the average duration of marriages has dropped from 23 to 12 years.
How can Employee Assistance Programs help in situations like these?
SP: EAPs are a benefit that combats absenteeism and presenteeism, reduces staff turnover and health insurance claims, and increases productivity. They provide support for employees or their families during moments of crisis, such as marital breakdown, drug or alcohol dependency, conflicts at work, problems with children at school, stress, financial and legal issues, bereavement or accidents. The aim of an EAP is to reduce the time employees are away from work and to ensure they return with renewed strength and optimal mental health. In Brazil, about 35% of companies operate EAPs, mainly medium to large multinationals.
How does Sodexo meet the EAP needs of companies in Brazil?
SP: Working in partnership with Optum, a EAP specialist and affiliate of the Employee Assistance Professional Association, we provide our clients’ employees with an Apoio Pass. It gives them a confidential support service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and is being deployed for more than 200,000 employees at over 250 companies in Brazil. These employees are being supported by a network of 4,000 specialized experts in 3,000 offices around the country.
How does the Apoio Pass work?
SP: It’s primarily a telephone service, which begins with a preliminary diagnosis of the person’s needs and continues with a referral to one or more professional experts – depending on the diagnosis. Counselors are available in person or by phone for the full range of psychological, social, legal and financial needs. It’s a truly holistic solution that looks at causes as well as symptoms, and all the experts have at least five years’ experience in the field.
Finally, how does Sodexo look after its own employees in Brazil?
SP: As a quality of life services provider, Sodexo offers a range of health and wellness benefits that is comparable with the best employers in Brazil. This includes the Apoio Pass, health plans, gym programs, retirement preparation programs and other benefits. They are really appreciated by our employees. Whenever we carry out internal research, particularly regarding engagement, we get a great response. People recognize that these benefits are a differentiator for the company, and they are grateful to have them.
It’s a service that we are very happy to provide, and it underlines our commitment as a company to improving quality of life for all.
 Hassard, J., et al (2014). Calculating the cost of work-related stress and psychosocial risks – A Literature Review. Bilbao, Spain: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. https://osha.europa.eu/en/tools-and-publications/publications/literature_reviews/calculating-the-cost-of-work-related- stress-and-psychosocial-risks.
 Global Wellness Institute, The future of wellness at work, January 2016 https://www.globalwellnessinstitute.org/global-wellness-institute-releases-report-and-survey-on-the-future-of-wellness-at-work/