By Maullika Sharma,
Director, Global Clinical Infrastructure at Workplace Options
Years ago when I moved to the U.S. as a brand new mother, a full-time homemaker and a trailing spouse, I needed support. But I never believed that I could get the help I needed in the U.S. because I thought no one would be able to understand me, my cultural background, and what I thought was my “unique” experience. A decade later I trained to be a counselor, and have known since then, that I definitely could have received the help I needed, even though I was in an alien land. I learned that my challenges and emotions were not so unique after all. In fact, they were the same emotions others would experience in similar situations, no matter which country they came from, or which country they were living in.
Years of clinical practice with and insight into people of different cultural, ethnic and religious origins has simply confirmed that there is a universality around human emotions and needs that transcends cultural barriers. To explore this issue further, I wanted to review Employee Assistance Program (EAP) case data from around the world and compare the reasons why individuals sought support.
While, EAPs originated in the western developed world, specifically the U.S. about 75 years ago, they have now become a global phenomenon. Driven in large part by corporates looking to globalize their benefits and their employee wellness policies, EAPs are now present in most developed countries, and local client organizations are increasingly considering them as an important component of their benefits package. When considering global EAPs, international benefits managers and procurement departments spend an increasing amount of time and effort in trying to identify vendors who will be as “local” as possible; who will be able to provide a global service within the exact nuance of the relevant cultural context needed in their specific country. At one level this makes a lot of sense, but all is not what it seems.
As a leading provider of global EAP services, Workplace Options embarked on a project comparing EAP usage in multiple countries. After analyzing over half a million global cases representing over 200 countries, Workplace Options found that EAP usage varied little from one country to the next.
Here are five global EAP trends identified from the Workplace Options analysis:
- Women are more likely to utilize EAP services than men. Approximately 60% of the cases were initiated by women, showing a stigma stills exists globally preventing men from requesting support.
- Adults in their thirties are most likely to access EAP services. Perhaps this corresponds to the stage of life when employees are facing multiple challenges including navigating self-growth, raising families, building careers and serving as caregivers.
- Emotional wellbeing is the type of support most frequently sought. Stress, anxiety and depression were consistently identified as the leading reasons for seeking EAP support, with the exception of Japan. Interesting to note, in Japan, workplace concerns were the most common reason employees utilized EAP services. This likely reflects a push by the Japanese government for employers to address the country’s workplace stress epidemic. For the remaining countries, workplace concerns ranked third.
- Help with significant relationships was the second most frequent type of support sought. Barring the cultural and religious nuances around gender roles, it would seem the dynamics of significant relationships, whether heterosexual or not, are the same no matter which country you live in.
- Employees prefer face-to-face emotional support. Even though many of the participants had access to multiple channels for support including email, chat, sms, video and telephone, 80% preferred an in-person meeting. This doesn’t mean we should abandon the other communications methods. Often employees use these methods as a first step in engaging with their EAP. In addition, in countries like China and India where travel and communications infrastructure is challenging, telephone support was preferred. And in countries where a significant mental health stigma still exists, employees prefer to hide behind the screen or a telephone.
So in the end, what did we learn from this project? Namely that employees everywhere, no matter their continent or country, struggle with emotional issues more than anything else. We all experience the same range of emotions and share the same emotional needs. Which means that as long as the EAP’s core objective is to help people locally, it does not matter how global or local a vendor is as long as the services are delivered locally and in the local language. Because in the end we really are much more alike than we are different.
Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.