Offering stress counselling to staff can help to tackle issues before they escalate, says Alison Coleman
A healthy and motivated workforce is usually a productive one, so when situations arise in which employees are affected by stress it is in employers’ interests to provide the help and support they need to deal with their problems. This can help to prevent staff from becoming unproductive or taking time off work.
Stress counselling can help employees explore the causes of their stress, look at ways of reducing or eliminating these and devise strategies to cope with them.
It can be a lifeline for staff who have become stressed as a result of personal problems, health concerns or work-related issues.
Counselling can be provided as a standalone service but the diverse and often complicated nature of stress has made employers aware that a broader programme of support is sometimes required. As a result, stress counselling is increasingly offered as part of a full employee assistance programme (EAP).
Gill Weston, a consultant at Bupa Psychological Services, says: “Employees can feel stressed for a number of reasons; work, everyday and personal issues, even the environment and coping with different life stages can all be contributing factors. Stress in the workplace can be a symptom of other problems.”
Stress counselling can be delivered in a face-to-face setting, which is the most popular option, or by telephone. As part of a counselling service, employees can be taught coping strategies, including cognitive behaviour techniques, to help them tackle thoughts that lead to negative emotions and behaviours, and avoid activities and habits that exacerbate their problems.
The cost of offering stress counselling can vary greatly, depending on the type of service employers offer. According to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), an organisation which offers stress counselling on an ad-hoc basis when needed can expect to pay between £600 and £700 per individual case. Employers with around 500 staff, that offer counselling on a standby basis, meanwhile, can expect to pay between £5 to £6 per employee per annum.
Even if employers opt to offer staff access to telephone counselling as part of an EAP, they may be able to top this up with a face-to-face service for an additional fee.
Providing stress counselling for staff can also have benefits for employers, particularly if it helps to lower absence levels. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence management survey 2008, stress is one of the main causes of long-term absence, particularly among non-manual workers.
Historically, welfare counselling provided through EAPs has been exempt from benefit-in-kind taxation. However, there is still uncertainty about whether schemes that also provide legal and financial advice qualify for this exemption.
Mark Eaton, director of Personal Group, says: “This is an invaluable benefit for employees, especially in times of economic hardship or when staff are finding it hard to maintain a positive work-life balance. Offering counselling services to employees allows them to get appropriate help with their problems and minimises their need to take time off work”
Product file: Stress Counselling
What is stress counselling? Stress counselling can help employees explore the causes of their stress, look at ways of reducing or eliminating these and devise strategies to cope with them so they become more resilient.
Where can employers get more information? The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) is a good source of information on all aspects of workplace counselling and also holds details of providers in the field. To contact EAPA, telephone 01993 772765 or visit www.eapa.org.uk The main providers in the market include: Axa Icas, Bupa Wellness, Ceridian, CIC, Employee Advisory Resources, First Assist, Focus EAP, PPC, Right Corecare, Validium, Work Stress Management