Home' HR Monthly : March 2018 Contents Is it time to think
differently about EAPs?
A CH AT W ITH PAUL FLANAGAN, FOUNDER AND CEO OF LIFE STREET.
Paul Flanagan has over 30 years'
experience as a clinical and
organisational psychologist. As founder
of Davidson Trahaire Corpsych (DTC), Paul
developed its programs and reputation,
nationally and internationally, up until the
late 2000s. This experience with hundreds
of organisations led Paul to re-evaluate the
effectiveness of the current EAP model, and
to the start of Life Street.
Do you think Employee Assistance
Programs still have an important role to
play in organisations?
Yes, they do, but they need to move beyond the
existing approach developed in the 1980s and
90s which has become unengaging, too reactive
and crisis focussed. Unfortunately, EAPs have
become reactive counselling services.
There have been significant advances in
mental health and wellbeing research and
practice, in positive psychology and new
technologies, but for some reason traditional
EAPs have not evolved. Some programs
use modern terminology and branding
but are, fundamentally, a traditional reactive,
What do you see as the strengths and
weaknesses of traditional EAPs?
The strength is that they are well understood
in the workplace and provide qualified
professionals to confidentially assist individuals
in times of need.
But on the other hand, they could be so
much more. They tend to deal with psychological
distress after the fact, rather than looking at
the life and work issues that contribute
to psychological wellbeing issues in the
We also now know that the traditional model
doesn't reach all the people in need, and for
those that it does, it's not early enough to
prevent personal distress escalating into a
psychological disorder. Having a model that
focuses on "people with problems" results in
low take up rates of just 4-6 per cent and
has a relatively low impact across the
employee population and on the overall
levels of wellbeing in the organisation.
You've been working with organisations
on a different approach. How did that
I felt that the traditional approach to EAP had
not evolved to address employees' psychological
and wellbeing needs in today's world, and I
think that some organisations also felt the
Organisations began adding events in attempts
to address employee needs. Some ran resilience
training or mental health awareness events and
seminars. Others provided websites or treatment
apps for their employees, but they found that
these initiatives had varying impacts results wise
or were generally "one-off" activities.
So, I began working with my team to look at
how we could help organisations better manage
and support employee psychological wellbeing in
a sustainable and measurable way.
We basically threw the old EAP rule book out
and started over. We looked at what we had learnt
over 30 years, reviewed global best practice and
found some progressive organisations to work with
who wanted a different approach that included the
essential functions of an EAP but is more engaging,
preventative and has greater impact.
What are the main differences between
the new approach and traditional EAPs?
The key features of the Life Street EAP model
are that it provides targeted help and resources
for the different wellbeing needs across
organisations, from those with psychological
"disorders", to those that are distressed and
grappling with life issues, through to those that
want to feel better and flourish.
We take a positive approach to engage
employees on issues that really matter to them
and support them with customised self-help
tools, resources and professional help.
We give the right type of help to the right
people earlier. There is also a strong focus
on self-help and self-responsibility in the
Life Street model. Professional help is
available, but it is more accessible than in
traditional EAPs and is integrated into a
positive, preventive program.
One of the biggest strengths of the Life Street
Model from an HR perspective is being able
to reliably analyse employee wellbeing needs
across the organisation. The reach is further,
and the potential to be proactive and manage
risk is a significant advance for HR.
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