09 May 2008 - 09:13: The Ten Principles to Successfully Implementing a Global EAP
I’m often asked whether the concept of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) works across the globe. My answer is a resounding ‘yes’ although with a small number of reservations. An EAP concept does work on a global basis. The issues addressed by an Employee Assistance Program – physical, psychological and behavioural health, wellbeing, engagement, productivity, work life balance, drugs and alcohol addiction, to name a few, are prevalent across the globe. Employees and their families can receive rapid, effective face-to-face, telephone and online support. Moreover, the international utilisation and satisfaction data gathered by PPC Worldwide, a global provider of EAP in over 130 countries underlines the fact that EAPs are seen as an effective and valued employee resource.
So why the reservations? Quite simply, purely replicating a US or UK EAP model and applying it to companies or subsidiaries in foreign territories, is too simplistic, does not encourage understanding or utilisation and most importantly, does not take account of local social, economic and cultural factors. Moreover, simply rolling out an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ EAP on a global basis will be wholly damaging to the entire industry with services eventually being misunderstood and commoditised – as has we have seen in countries such as the UK, US and Ireland.
PPC Worldwide has been offering global EAP services for over 15 years and we believe we understand the key requirements to implementing, managing and promoting an effective international EAP – the services to select, how these services should be communicated and the potential barriers you may face. The 10 points below provide the guiding principles when implementing or considering to implement a global EAP.
1. One size does not fit all
As previously mentioned, the EAP concept does work globally but the mix of services within the EAP ‘package’ may differ according to region or country. For example PPC’s South African operation offers HIV/AIDS screening services, responding to one of the key issues on the African continent, whilst in China, more emphasis is placed on online/telephone communications to minimise a user’s ‘loss of face’. To ensure an EAP works on a global basis, it is important to break the package down to the individual components, and verify that the service mix works in the local market.
2. Understand local country and regional issues
To ascertain which services work and where, it is vital to have an in-depth understanding of local country and regional issues – within and beyond your organisation and industry sector. Perception and utilisation of services varies according to local perceptions to health, wellbeing and HR services, market maturity and general macro-economic conditions. An understanding of these issues will allow you to align EAP services to relevant issues, thus increasing credibility and utilisation. For example, PPC Worldwide offer security and disaster support within their EAP in the Middle-East and Gulf regions.
3. Understand the local culture, local health infrastructure and attitudes to (solution-focussed) counselling
In order to ensure the local EAP works effectively, knowledge of local cultural factors, local health resources and attitudes to healthcare is vital. Citizens of some European countries such as France or Germany very much view healthcare as the sole responsibility of the state, not the role of business. It is therefore vital to highlight the business benefits of an EAP in terms of reduced absence and increased productivity. It is also very important to gain an understanding of local attitudes to solution-focused counselling. Some European countries such as Belgium, France or Switzerland have a deep-rooted tradition of psycho-analysis, and an understanding of the benefits of solution-focused counselling should not be taken for granted.
4. Know your organisation
Just because corporate HQ support launch of a global programme doesn’t mean local subsidiaries are behind it. Whilst the benefits of an EAP are widely acknowledged amongst the HR community in the US or in countries such as the UK, Ireland or Australia, an EAP will be a new concept for many, even within so-called developed economies. It is vital not to take awareness for granted and to involve local subsidiaries from the outset. At the same time, work with your EAP provider to segment your staff and adapt messages accordingly. For example, local HR staff need to understand the nuts and bolts of the programme, local Occupational Health staff may need reassurance as they may see the EAP as a threat to their responsibilities, and other members of staff must understand how they can use the programme rapidly, effectively and in complete confidence. It is also vital to understand how subsidiaries perceive corporate HQ and its understanding of local issues – like any centrally imposed program, the EAP must not be perceived as a ‘diktat’ from corporate HQ.
5. Identify your Target Audience
It is extremely important to understand who the program will be serving. Will it primarily be local nationals or expatriates? And with increasing internationalisation and mobility, employee populations are getting more and more diverse. For example, it is now estimated that over 1 million Eastern Europeans have come to work in the UK since 2005. A program may be based in one country but may be serving a large number of nationals from another.
6. Understand the fear factor
People are typically resistant to change, especially when introduced to a concept that they may not have seen before. When communicating with foreign offices/subsidiaries, ensure you explore potential areas of concern and work along your EAP provider to provide clear responses and where necessary, offer reassurance around the key areas of independence, confidentiality and data protection.
7. Identify the influencers
Identify key ‘influencers’ in local territories to help promote the programme and communicate with local employees in their local language. Make sure these influencers are kept up to date with changes and developments within the EAP. It is also crucial to ensure the information flow is not just in one direction. Solicit feedback with regard to perception of the service and any local operational changes. At the same time, ensure you have senior level buy-in and support.
8. Launch the service locally
Ensure that with your EAP provider, you launch the program locally to employees in their mother-tongue. PPC Worldwide offers local account management support and a range of launch materials including orientation presentations in local language.
9. Review frequently
Work with your provider to regularly review the programme, utilisation and ensure that any changes within your business are reflected in the EAP. Ensure that your local ‘influencers’ are actively involved in the review process.
10. Select an EAP provider with the relevant experience, infrastructure and knowledge.
An experienced and knowledgeable global EAP provider is key. They will possess the local market knowledge, counselling network and should work as a partner offering advice, support and counselling with regard to the points mentioned above. Some of the key areas to consider when selecting a provider are:
- Operating experience and current client list
- Countries covered Global Counselling Network (size and spread)
- Certification (ISO 9001, local counsellor qualifications)
- Global and local account management
- Financial Stability and growth prospects
- Availability of local employee communication and promotional material
Nick Malhomme is Head of European Development at PPC Worldwide (firstname.lastname@example.org).