Many employers and plan sponsors provide employee assistance programs (EAPs) as part of their workplace mental health strategy, but a consistent trend has been their underuse by men.

EAPs provide free and confidential counselling services and have been around for decades. Many men view EAPs as a last resort for significant personal issues once other support networks and attempts at self-help have failed.

In his article “The Elephant in the Room: The Disproportional Underuse of Employee Assistance Program Counselling Services by Men” in the November/December issue of Plans & Trusts, author Mark Milot discusses the overhaul needed to increase men’s use of employee counselling services.

Milot, a research psychologist and independent scholar, discusses the “silent crisis” of men’s mental health as well as the financial and human costs associated with the failure to adequately address men’s mental health in the workplace.

“Men need more help than they are receiving,” Milot writes. “Strategies that better accommodate men’s experiences with mental health are needed to increase their use of employee counselling services in a time of need in order to improve well-being and productivity in this segment of the workforce.”

Lower Usage

Even though EAPs are widely accessible and might have a significant positive impact on working-age men in a variety of professions and industries, it is well known but not well publicized that males do not use counselling services as frequently as their female counterparts. According to the LifeWorks 2021 Annual Report, depending on the industry sector and geography, approximately 60-70% of EAP users are women, and 30-40% of EAP users are men.

Plan sponsors and business leaders should take into greater consideration this underuse of employee counselling services by men because it leads to unnecessary suffering and can have negative repercussions on productivity in the workplace.

The Cost of Undiagnosed Issues

Irritability and anger are often manifestations of depression or anxiety. They do not fit within the diagnostic criteria for the disorders; thus, the conditions may go unnoticed for some men. It is more likely they will be diagnosed with a behavioural issue (e.g., substance use) rather than have the emotional underpinnings of their problems taken into consideration. For these reasons, men may suffer from underlying depression and anxiety at rates higher than apparent.

Accordingly, failing to adequately address men’s mental health at work can lead to needless suffering as well as significant costs from lost productivity, employee turnover and increased use of disability benefits, and it will continue to be expensive for many stakeholders due to such wide repercussions, Milot said.

Getting Men Help

Milot advises employers and plan sponsors to collaborate and be proactive with their EAP provider to maximize the promotion of EAPs.  Developing and deploying more comprehensive communication strategies presents an opportunity to increase the presence of EAPs in the workplace and build more relatable and trustworthy messaging. Promoting EAPs as a tool to proactively work toward a solution may help challenge men’s perceptions of these programs as a passive and perplexing service. Reaching men in ways that engage them and provide additional skills via coaching or resilience training could increase use.

Other Considerations

“The underuse of employee counselling services by men, and the unnecessary suffering that comes with it, is an issue that has been lingering for far too long—Isn’t it time to address it with innovative initiatives?” Milot writes.

Milot suggested that employers should consider these key approaches to enhancing their EAP.

  • Change how counselling services are designed and delivered. Counselling can be off-putting for certain men who view talk, emotional vulnerability and in-depth self-disclosure as too feminine.
  • Use gender matching or gender-specific programs for “man-friendly” therapeutic approaches like talking “side by side” rather than face-to-face.
  • Systemically assess for and address potential biases in EAPs’ counselling services, so that men who struggle have a greater chance of having their mental health issues identified and dealt with by their counsellors.

Tim Hennessy
Editor at the International Foundation

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Tim Hennessy

Editor, at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  Favorite Foundation Product: Plans & Trusts Benefits-related topics that interest him the most: retirement security and mental health Personal Insights: Tim enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, reading, writing, and running.

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