The roles and functions of the EAP practitioners

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EAPs are termed differently (Scanlon, 1991:16) by various employers and are often referred to as Employee Counselling Services (ECS), Personal Counselling Services (PCS), Occupational Chemical Dependency Programmes (OCDP), the Special Medical Services (SMS) or Employee Health and Wellness Programmes (EHWP).
Most private and public sector institutions’ EAPs are staffed with professionals who have the expertise to attend to a variety of employee work-related problems.
The concept ‘EAP’ is widely used to identify services that address the employee problems in the workplace. EAPs are an employer-sponsored benefit consisting of diagnostic and referral services for employees and their families. They are defined in Newton, Hayday and Barkworth (2005:1) as worksite programmes intended to assist in the identification and resolution of employee concerns, which affect, or may affect work performance. The EAP is an intervention designed to provide professional services to employees whose job performance is affected negatively by work concerns (Newton, Hayday and Barkworth, 2005:1), and personal problems (Blair, 1985:5). Work concerns, according to Newton, Hayday and Barkworth (2005:1) include working relationships, stress, workloads, fairness at work, work-life balance, harassment and bullying, whilst personal problems may include, according to Blair (1985:5) alcoholism, emotional difficulties, stress, drug dependence, financial problems, legal complications, anxiety and family disagreements.
EAPs are structured and organised programmes that utilise technical, administrative, and professional employee service, on either a contractual or full time employment basis to meet the needs of the distressed employees (Meyers, 1984:4). Nankervis, Compton & McCarthy (1999:414), describes EAP as “a set of company policies and procedures for identifying, or responding to personal or emotional performance”. They are seen as institutional plans that provide employees with assistance and counselling for personal problems, such as substance abuse, career planning and advice, financial and legal problems.
The aim of EAPs is to provide mechanisms for counselling and other forms of assistance, advice and information to employees on a systematic and uniform basis and to recognise performance standards. These interventions are designed to help employees and their families with problems arising from work-related and external sources. Some of the products provided by EAPs include toll-free telephone consultation for employees who wish to talk about their problems, as well as on site access to medical and psychological professionals (Greenberg & Baron, 2003:13  Cunningham, 1994:5). EAPs emphasises the drive for professionalism necessary to confer occupational status and the social recognition of expert personal services (Berridge, Cooper & Highley-Marchington 1997:16).
Masi (1992:1) explains EAPs as professional assessments and referrals and/or short term counselling services offered to help employees with personal problems that affect their work performance. The interventions may at times include managerial-supervisory consultations, training and employee education. Employees are either self-referred to consult EAPs or are sometimes referred to such services by supervisors. They are seen as interventions for improving employee’s resilience to work related problems. These interventions use behavioural science knowledge and methods for the control of certain work-related problems that adversely affect job performance (Berridge et al, 1997:16). Some EAP services providers, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (no date), are also able to provide other services such as retirement or lay-off assistance, health promotion and fitness (such as weight control, nutrition and exercise or smoking). Others may offer advice on long-term illness, disability issues, counselling for crisis situations (for example death at work), or advice specifically for managers or supervisors in dealing with difficult situations in the workplace. As further noted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, EAPs should be designed as part of an institution’s plan to promote wellness that involves written policies, supervisor and employee training, and where appropriate, an approved drug testing programme.


As explained in chapter 1, EAPs originated out of the occupational alcoholism programmes (OAPs) whose aims were to provide services primarily to alcohol and/or drug-dependent employees. During the 1940s, there was an increase in the number of programmes set up to deal with alcoholism (Scanlon, 1991:16; Masi, 1984:7). EAPs were then chiefly for the purpose of helping employees with alcohol drinking problems and other personal problems that were work-related. The focus of EAPs during this period was on job performance rather than on symptoms related to alcoholism alone. The managers and supervisors in the workplace were expected to monitor behavioural, physical, and social indications of alcohol abuse and the manner in which these impacted negatively on work performance. Managers and supervisors were also trained to detect symptoms such as red-nose, monitor intoxicated employees and those that smelled of alcohol (Scanlon, 1991:16). Most of the EAS had been linked to treating alcohol dependency and were seen as a health management intervention. During the 1960s, the OAPs became increasingly professional as they were run by social work specialists. During the 1970s, EAPs were extended to include employee assistance on personal problems such as drug and substance abuse.
Following the expansion of the scope of services of EAPs in the 1970s, the scope of EAPs had since then broadened to include providing treatment for all types of substance dependence, abuse or addiction, as well as therapy and counselling for personal problems such as marital problems, stress or depression and financial problems (Swanepoel, Erasmus, Van Wyk & Shenk, 2003:559), all whose impact are profound on employee work performance. According to Buon & Taylor (2007:6), by offering a comprehensive range of employee assistance services (EAS), the new EAPs became acceptable since they were responsive to the nature of work related problems experienced by employees. Apart from being responsive to the nature of problems experienced by employees in workplaces, the broadening of the scope of services became apparent after managers and supervisors realised that EAP practitioners had significant expertise in handling other employee problems, and not only problems related to drinking. Counsellors were required to deal with a wider scope of employees’ concerns (Cunningham, 1994:3).
EAPs in South Africa are a relatively new workplace management phenomenon since they emerged during the early 1980s (Maiden, 1992:1). These programmes were initially programmes designed after the USA models and were introduced to South African workplaces by social workers and psychologists who had studied the programmes in the USA. EAPs in South Africa do not have the colourful history that has accompanied their development in the USA (Maiden, 1992:1). In South Africa EAPs were initiated by private sector companies during the 1980s. The focus of these programmes, as in the case of the USA, was providing solutions to problems relating to alcoholism and substance abuse (Gerber, 1995:31). As part of their development in South Africa, there has been the increasing dominance of occupational social workers as EAP practitioners (Cunningham, 1994:2) in workplaces, particularly public institutions.
Like in the USA, the roles that EAPs play in institutions have changed drastically since their inception during the 1980s. Not only do they provide assistance to the symptoms of alcohol abuse by employees, but are designed to help identify and eradicate the root causes of problems experienced by employees. Observers have postulated that the change of EAPs to broad-brush approach have diluted their initial focus on substance abuse problems. The EAPs are now designed to address all problems that negatively affect the employees’ well-being or job performance (Merrick, Volpe-Vartanian, Horgan & McCann, 2007:1). Hartwell, Steele, French, Potter, Rodman & Zarkin (1996:1) also argue that currently the EAPs have become a more prevalent point of access to employees with personal problems. In South Africa EAPs are viewed as agents of change for social conditions in the work environment. The confidential nature of EAPs provides employees with an avenue to discuss personal and work-related problems and raise concerns that affect their performance (Maiden, 1992:3). As a result of the developments in the EAPs, practitioners have their own areas of expertise/specialisation and credentials, and they offer a variety of specialised services. These professionals now help employees to cope with an extensive range of personal difficulties, for example individual psychological problems, marital, and family difficulties, work stress, financial and legal concerns, as well as substance abuse that historically were not part of EAPs (EAP Handbook, 1999:2).



Before looking at the objectives of EAPs in the workplace, it becomes worthwhile to pay attention to the roles that practitioners play in administering these services and how such roles and functions have evolved over a period of time. The changes in the roles of EAP have also influenced the role of EAP practitioners. Practitioners are specially trained to handle different employees’ problems and may provide a brief counselling if required to do so. In situations where the problem is complicated, the practitioner refers the employee to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment. It is expected of the practitioners to follow up on the cases which are referred to the specialists (Campbell & Langford, 1995:154).
As argued by Scanlon (1991:50), EAPs employ professionals from various disciplines, such as psychiatry, psychology, social work and counselling and at times institutions might have only one practitioner that assesses problems and then refers the employee for assistance. The practitioner, as opposed to the initial stages in the development of EAPs, has to provide on-going social support and to monitor the employees’ progress. Currently EAP practitioners are experiencing issues and expectations which were not foreseen by those who entered the field just a decade ago (Cunningham, 1994:2). Dewe et al. (2000:227) emphasises that the practitioners’ roles have become complex since their roles include acting as referral agents, legislative analysts, researchers/evaluators, mediators, liaisons, ombudsmen, programme development specialists, teachers/trainers, benefits administrators and consultants. It is also the responsibility of the practitioners to put strategies in place to enhance the utilisations of the EAP. Practitioners are to motivate employees to have a positive attitude towards the EAP (Merrick et al. 2007:2).


Both the discussion of the historical development of EAPs and the roles and functions of the EAP practitioner give an indication of the objectives that employers intend to achieve with the institutionalisation of EAPs. The discussion in this part identifies three sets of objectives that employers intend to achieve with the institutionalisation of EAPs. These objectives tend to be similar among institutions that have institutionalised EAPs.

Table of contents :

1.1 Orientation and background statement.
1.2 Justification of the study
1.3 Problem statement
1.4 Research objectives
1.5 Definition of concepts.
1.6 Research methodology
1.6.1 Literature review
1.6.2 Government legislation and reports
1.6.3 Empirical investigation Interviews Questionnaires.
1.7 Layout of the study
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Employee assistance programmes
2.3 The historical origin of employee assistance programmes
2.4 The roles and functions of the EAP practitioners
2.5 The objectives of employee assistance programmes
2.5.1 Conformity to statutory obligations and a common law of duty of care
2.5.2 Provision of support and the wellbeing of employees
2.5.3 Employee retention and productivity
2.6 The employer’s involvement
2.7 Employee assistance programme models
2.7.1 In-House Model
2.7.2 Out-of-House Model
2.7.3 Consortium Model
2.7.4 Affiliate Model
2.8 The Principles of employee assistance programmes
2.8.1 The total person
2.8.2 Confidentiality
2.8.3 Reactive and proactive strategies
2.8.4 Professional counselling
2.9 Benefits of employee assistance programmes
2.10 Marketing the employee assistance programmes
2.11 Conclusion
3.1 Introduction
3.2 The study area
3.2.1 Structural composition and number of employees
3.2.2 The rank structure of employees
3.3 The institutionalisation of EAP in the study area
3.3.1 Rank structure of EAP practitioners.
3.4 Research design.
3.4.1 Research sample.
3.4.2 Research methods. The interviews Interviews with non-commissioned officers Interviews with EAP practitioners
3.4.3 Research questionnaire for commissioned officers
3.5 Ethical considerations
3.6 Conclusion
4.1 Introduction
4.2 The findings of the research
4.2.1 Findings from interviews with non-commissioned officers Understanding of the EAP Communication of EAP Information about the functioning of EAP General experiences of EAP Credibility and adherence to ethical guidelines by EAP practitioners Frequency of consultations of EAS Non-commissioned officers’ opinion about EAP Accessibility of EAS General improvements in EAS
4.2.2 Findings from interviews with EAP practitioners Circumstances under which EAS are provided Challenges confronting EAP Discrepancies in occupational ranks The use of marked vehicles Poor attendance of workshops Insufficient consultation rooms The marketing of EAS Internal referrals by supervisors The impact of EAS on employee performance General opinions of employees towards EAS Employees’ understanding of the EAS
4.2.3 Commissioned officers’ questionnaire results Commissioned officers’ understanding of EAP The functions of the EAP Implementation of EAP General experience of EAP Satisfaction with EAS Suggestions on how to improve EAP Frequency of consultation of EAS Circumstances under which referrals are made Referral of employees to EAS Impact of referrals on employees Strengths and weaknesses of the EAP Feedback from EAP practitioners Resistance by employees to consult EAS
4.3 Conclusion.
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Concluding remarks
5.3 Recommendations
5.3.1 Non-commissioned officers’ concerns Information about the functioning of the EAP General experiences of the EAP Credibility and adherence to ethical guidelines Frequency of consultations of the EAP Accessibility of the EAP to employees
5.3.2 EAP practitioners’ concerns Insufficient staff Interaction amongst different ranks The use of marked vehicles Poor attendance of workshops Insufficient consultation rooms Employees’ opinion towards EAS Employees’ lack of understanding of EAS
5.3.3 Commissioned officers’ concerns Functions of the EAP Implementation of EAP General experience of the EAP Satisfaction with EAS Suggestions on how to improve EAP Frequency of consultations with EAP practitioners Feedback from EAP practitioners Employee resistance to consult the EAP
Appendix A: Interview schedule for non-commissioned officers
Appendix B: Interview schedule for EAP practitioners
Appendix C: Questionnaire for commissioned officers
Appendix D: Permission to conduct research


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