Maintaining good mental health in the workplace is paramount to employee satisfaction and retention. But sometimes, an employee’s work-related issues or personal problems are more than they can handle on their own. By providing employee counseling or an employee assistance program (EAP), businesses can help employees improve their work performance and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Here’s what employers need to know about employee counseling services, including how to create an employee counseling program and when to use it.

What Is Employee Counseling?

Employee counseling refers to mental health counseling that’s available to employees as an employee benefit. Counseling sessions may be used to deal with work-related issues, but can also be used to address issues in an employee's personal life.

Employee counseling is usually voluntary, but it may be compulsory if an employee’s behavior is a threat to themselves or other employees. As with any type of mental health therapy, employee counseling is strictly confidential. Employers can verify attendance, but don’t have access to the content of counseling sessions.

Employee counseling may be used to address:

  • Stress management
  • Anger management
  • Behavioral health
  • Substance abuse
  • Marital problems
  • Bereavement

Employee counseling may be part of an employee assistance program (EAP), which typically offers a broader range of services. EAP services may include:

  • Legal services
  • Health services
  • Financial services
  • Family planning services
  • Child care or elder care support

EAP services are generally free to employees. In cases where an in-house counselor isn’t able to help, they can provide a referral to an outside healthcare provider, which may be covered by an employee’s health insurance plan.

3 Reasons to Provide Employee Counseling at Work

Taking on the cost of employee counseling and other EAP services may seem like a big expense, but for many organizations, it pays off in the long run. Here are three benefits of employee counseling on work performance and employee relations.

Improved performance

Both work-related and personal issues can have an impact on employee performance. If an employee is stressed about personal problems, they’re more likely to be distracted at work and less likely to devote their full attention to their job responsibilities.

An employee counseling program can contribute to increased workplace productivity as employees make fewer mistakes and have more focus during the workday.

Reduced turnover and absenteeism

A lack of support services can lead to high employee turnover and absenteeism rates. Employees may have no choice but to call in sick to deal with personal problems, or they may experience burnout related to ongoing stress or mental health issues.

Employee counseling can help employees deal with stress and anxiety, improve their well-being, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Positive work environment

Personal issues and behavioral health issues can have a real impact on coworkers, and lead to low morale and interpersonal conflict in the workplace. In a worst-case scenario, it can result in employee misconduct and a hostile work environment.

By providing counseling to employees, you can foster a positive work environment and company culture by addressing concerns before they become an issue.

How to Provide Employee Counseling That Makes a Difference

Employee counseling: counselor talking to an entrepreneur

In most companies, the human resources team is responsible for informing employees about counseling options. But managers and supervisors need to know what issues to look out for and when to refer an employee to a counselor. Here’s how your team can take the initiative to implement an employee counseling program that works.

1. Identify performance issues

First, be proactive about identifying issues that could signify a need for counseling. This could be a performance issue, such as tardiness or absenteeism, or a behavioral issue, such insubordination or misconduct. Be on the lookout for signs of stress and anxiety, difficulty sleeping, burnout, and substance abuse.

Remember that employees may be reluctant to bring up mental health issues for fear of repercussions, and that the cause of stress or anxiety may be unrelated to the job itself. An employee may be dealing with marital issues, the death or illness of a close family member, or other stressful situations in their personal life.

Before recommending counseling, let them know you’re worried about them and ask what you can do to help. Employees aren’t required to disclose sensitive information, but they may welcome the chance to directly express how they’re feeling.

2. Develop a counseling plan

Next, determine the best approach to handling the issue. In some cases, that might mean referring the employee to your EAP provider for voluntary counseling.

In other cases, a manager or supervisor may provide counseling themselves. For example, disciplinary counseling refers to a meeting with an employee to discuss performance issues or workplace misconduct. A supervisor might put together a performance improvement plan or take employee disciplinary action.

This type of counseling should be used for minor workplace issues. For more serious cases of stress or anger management, consider mandatory counseling, in which the employee is required to see a counselor as a condition of employment.

3. Provide counseling services

Once an employee has been referred to a counselor, it’s largely out of the supervisor’s hands. Counseling sessions may be provided by an in-house counselor, or delivered by an EAP service provider. The counselor will work with the employee to determine the most effective type of counseling, and whether to meet in-person or online.

Short-term counseling may be used to provide immediate coping strategies for personal problems, while long-term therapy could be used to address recurring issues.

4. Offer additional support

Employees with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other mental health conditions may be entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This could include a flexible schedule, private workspace, service animal, or a leave of absence.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also provides up to 12 weeks of leave for certain qualifying conditions, such as the illness of a family member. Employees may also qualify for leave to seek treatment for certain mental health conditions.

Although a leave of absence may not eliminate the need for employee counseling, it could give employees the time they need to address the root cause of stress.

5. Follow up

Finally, follow up with the employee to determine if the counseling has been effective. Has their performance improved, or have they addressed the underlying issues?

Make sure they’re aware of other wellness programs they can participate in, such as mindfulness programs or group therapy sessions.

Following up shows that you care about your employees’ well-being, and helps to reduce the stigma around mental health in the workplace.

Streamline Employee Counseling With Pulpstream

Counselor talking to an employee

Employee counseling can be used to address performance issues, behavioral issues, and mental health issues in the workplace. It’s usually part of a company’s employee assistance program (EAP), and may be administered by a third-party EAP provider.

In addition to professional counseling, supervisors may use disciplinary counseling to address employee misconduct or create a performance improvement plan.

Improve your employee counseling and disciplinary process with Pulpstream, a no-code platform that can handle all of your human resource management needs. From leave of absence requests to ADA accommodations, Pulpstream helps you better support your employees and promote their mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Our cloud-based tools make it easy to automate HR processes and empower your HR team. Request a free demo today to see how it works!