Working wounded

Having closed the door of their home each
morning, workers arrive at the office, and offload their personal problems.
Just how that impacts on the bottom line is hard to measure although international research suggests an organisation with 1000 people could be losing $750,000 year because of troubled employees performing below their best.
Around the country, the figure is estimated conservatively at $1.5 billion year.
By troubled we’re not just talking about serious mental illness or trauma, but also things such as stress, anger, financial and legal concerns, depression, family concerns, workplace accident, gambling or drug and alcohol abuse.
Consider these statistics:
* More than 15 percent of adults exhibit serious symptoms of stress, such as high blood pressure.
* Between six percent and 10 percent of those who drink are, or will become alcoholic.
* New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the world.
* Marijuana use is of epidemic proportion and many are fatalistic whether any effort to combat drug use can stem the tide.
Organisations are investing in employees more than ever before.
Occupational health and safety now demands compliance to statutory standards and organisations are seeking ways to reduce the cost of accidents. And margins are so tight that improving productivity and recovering lost costs by up to five percent is huge gain.
Employee Assistance Programmes, or EAP, is the term often applied to the measures most commonly used in New Zealand. Unfortunately they’re usually the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and represent an added cost to employers in addition to the cost of the problem.
Best foot forward
The point is that there are better ways. true EAP is more than counselling — it is proactive and identifies ways to prevent problems before they become serious personal and performance issues.
Sustained Performance Programmes are new initiative in here, having been successfully implemented in the United States and Canada in recent years.
Sustained Performance Programmes are different from EAP in that they are primarily front foot measures and are cost beneficial.
The difference is core technology — proactive system that hunts out problems, not reactive system responding when it’s too late.
It is broad-brush approach, sweeping up issues at work within process staffed by trained company personnel or external professionals.
A Sustained Performance Programme helps avoid or recover lost costs through safer workplace and healthy, productive workforce. Some large employers have paid for the programme’s operation through reductions in absenteeism alone, some as much as 50 percent.
It can also help foster sense of organisational identity and be positive influence on productivity, employee turnover and union-management relationships.
People who need help or advice — team leaders or employees — access the programme through their own company communications or 24-hour national counsellor freephone.
Take alcohol and drug abuse. To break the troubled employee cycle, the company needs to develop effective policy and procedures, often in conjunction with evidential workplace drug testing.
This must be coupled with education for all employees and training for people such as team leaders so they know what to do when colleague’s use of alcohol or drugs is likely to cause risk in the workplace.
Experience also shows that once programme is accepted and trusted, employees will self-refer before their concerns become performance issue. Some companies choose to extend their schemes to include families.
It can also be expanded to include additional health promotion measures such as smoking cessation, weight control, stress management and nutrition.
A Sustained Performance Programme is an investment with tangible returns like lower absenteeism and sickness costs, safer workplace through fewer accidents and injuries, and fewer grievances.
You can’t put monetary value on job saved, family put back together, the gratitude of an employee helped, or avoiding the loss of life. They’re not part of an annual report, but they are very real and satisfying return for any organisation.
Matt Beattie is director of the employee assistance provider Instep.

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