August 24, 2020
Thirty-three attendees from 24 companies participated in the call. Companies came from various industries, including consumer products/apparel/household; energy production and transmission; retail; technology; pharmaceuticals and biotechnology; manufacturing; banking/financial services; and telecommunications.
Purpose of Meeting
Business Group on Health sponsored a 60-minute member conversation as part of a call series on global employee assistance programs (EAPs). The scope of the call’s agenda was going deeper on the main themes identified in the prior call: provider expectations, quality variability by country, account management improvement opportunities and communication needs.
Employer Expectations for EAP Providers
For employers, the goal behind using one global provider for EAP is to have one provider who can cover the company’s EAP service needs for their worldwide workforce. The intent is for an equitable experience for all employees regardless of their location. To achieve equity, applying a significant degree of local relevance is required.
Business Group on Health polled call attendees on the following question: “What is the most important expectation(s) for the global EAP provider when going through the purchasing and selection process?” The theme of the responses revolved around local nuances such as culture, language and quality experience. The word cloud to the right illustrates the response prevalence. These expectations also seemed to be posing the biggest challenge following implementation.
Attendees shared that there is often a disconnect between providers and employers in their definition of key expectations. One such example relates to offering services in the local language. One employer said that its Spanish and Portuguese language services were provided in Latin American dialects of these languages. As a result, their employees in Spain and Portugal did not feel that they were receiving services in their local language and culture. This reveals the importance of subtle nuance when someone is seeking care through an EAP. Another employer said that its provider does not offer communications in Vietnamese, which is a key market for this company, causing a gap in services. Another employer shared that intake and counseling was sufficient in the local language, but the website and certain communications were not available in all languages. Furthermore, the employer had expected translation services for these languages as well.
The devil is in the details. During the RFP, selection and SOW phases, ensure that there is alignment on expectations by defining successful metrics, such as what is in scope for “local language services” and what is not.
Several employers mentioned how their EAP is part of a holistic portfolio of mental health and work/ life programs offered by the companies. They wish to see more linkage to improve the employee experience. One employer is doing a pilot in the U.S. where the EAP provider can act as a single point of contact for employees on all company -related mental health or work/life resources. This requires the EAP provider’s call center to be well informed on the portfolio of programs offered by the company and serve as a communication vehicle for these resources to employees who contact the EAP. This employer is looking for the provider to increase marketing for this service.
EAP programs’ effectiveness can be maximized when they are approached as part of the overall portfolio of related and integrated mental health and work/life programs provided by the company.
Employers also discussed how to categorize the EAP service – as a traditional EAP or as a broader work/life program. Some employers have found that work/ life services such as legal and financial resources and coaching are not available in a number of countries. As a result, these employers are reluctant to communicate the EAP as a broader work/life program, especially if employees don’t feel they have a meaningful product available to them. To avoid dissatisfaction, employers want to ensure that the expectations they set with their employees for the services delivered align with the availability of quality services.
Employers acknowledged that outside the U.S., an EAP is a “patchwork quilt” in order to meet the local needs. There are many different provider relationships underlying the overall global framework, which reduces employer control. These local networks or contractors working through the global provider make a seamless global service more difficult for everyone. In a the global EAP arrangement, the company has outsourced to the global EAP account manager the responsibility of managing multiple local providers, yet complications still arise with those local providers.
One service that earned unanimous positive feedback as meeting expectations was the value of the critical incident support offered by the providers.
The Need for Providers To Be Proactive
Proactivity in providers is a core expectation for employers. It is also often the area where employers have the most frustration and feel expectations are not being met. To help identify the perceived gap, call attendees were asked to describe “what it means for providers to be proactive.” Employers defined proactivity in the following ways:
Members overwhelmingly shared that they expect their global EAP provider to come to them with data and trends, identify issues before they learn about them, be transparent by identifying gaps in the market or capabilities and propose potential solutions without being asked. If, for example, usage is low, the provider should suggest solutions to increase it.
Data and reporting were mentioned as major pain points by most employers on the call. One employer said that the availability of data was a bit of a “black hole” outside the U.S. In the U.S., this employer receives reports weekly, but outside the U.S. it has not received anything since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the winter, despite asking for at least a trends report. This company needs insights about how its global workforce is reacting to the pandemic. From the employer’s perspective, the EAP provider should be best positioned to provide this insight, as the provider has a network of experts who know best about mental health needs and behavior in stressful situations. However, the company has been unable to get that information. Another employer echoed the same issues and said that when the report comes in, the employer often finds many mistakes (such as headcount) and has to go through it in detail to ensure accuracy. The employer said that it believes the quality of data could be much improved. The employer also has problems with how the data is annualized for headcount and utilization.
EAPs tend to have lower utilization. Reasons for this are often attributable to stigma deterring access, or employees not being aware of the service due to a lack of effective promotion. One call attendee speculated that in some countries, it could be a statement from employees about the perception of quality and user experience.
When it comes to quality, there were two tiers for discussion: 1) quality of providers and networks and 2) quality of customer service. For quality of providers and networks, some of that can be attributable to geographical market immaturity and access issues. Quality of customer service is seen as an issue that should not be occurring if there is an effective account manager(s). When asked where most quality or communication issues had taken place, the majority of call attendees cited Latin America. One employer said that most of its problems had been in Mexico specifically, where there were many communication issues between the partner, local team and global management. While those issues have since been addressed, there is a lingering negative impact, as the local team started losing trust in the service and is now reluctant to promote it.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Call attendees expressed interest in a follow-up survey to assess “what good looks like” in the eyes of the employers in relation to quality, account management, reporting and communication. Survey results will be shared in a subsequent employer benchmarking call. Employers expressed interest in having a process set up so that they can share their collective voice as constructive feedback with global EAP providers and hear the provider perspective as well. A mutual feedback loop like that could enable employers and providers to jointly raise issues of mutual concerns.
Employers desire to evolve the relationship with global EAP providers from one they often see as administrative services to a strategic partnership.