Employee Assistance Programs  The Missing LinkEmployee Assistance Programs The Missing Link

Having spent my entire adult life working in the public sector, and am now, following early retirement, spending my days hopping between private and public sector, consulting with business and agency leaders, managers and front line workers in a variety of workplace situations. Over the past while I have witnessed various forms of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that have been adopted to help the men and women deal with various personal and professional issues.

It has begun to dawn on me that there appears to be a complete lack of any proactive or preventative aspects to such programs.

When considering the variety of issues that are regularly confront all of us in our day-to-day lives, and when considering how these issues frequently colour every aspect of our behaviours, attitudes and performance, it strikes me as peculiar that organizations will spend untold amounts of money attempting to ?fix? a problem that has developed within one or more of its employees, all the while appearing to neglect the causes of these problems, even when it is clear that something in the workplace as at the root of the problem in the first place; or that some bona fide issue in the workplace has caused an employee, manager or executive to alter his or her behaviour ? and not for the better.

Like What?

In a great many organizations, superior performance is rewarded through promotions or special assignments. There are few if any ways other than promotion to recognize excellence. This causes many problems. During my 30 years with the Ontario Provincial Police, I watched with some interest as various promotional processes came and went. As these processes evolved, and as fewer and fewer positions were available because of 'downsizing? and ?rightsizing? and 're-engineering?, more and more men and women were faced with a harsh reality; they were where they were going to be for a long time; promotion or some other form of upward mobility was not going to be on their dance card.

In particular, when witnessing and/or actually working within the promotional processes that were designed to identify front-line constables who wanted to become supervisors (or sergeants), the picture that kept emerging was a bunch of racehorses galloping toward the open gate, only to find that there was only room for a small number to fit through. Few were successful. The ones who unfortunately did not were left on the wrong side of the fence, nostrils flaring and in quite a lather. Many had been kicked, bruised and battered in the stampede.

This ever-increasing number of frustrated, disappointed and occasionally disgruntled workers becomes a considerable challenge to maintaining a positive and optimistic workforce. In my opinion, this issue has, for the most part, been ignored by larger organizations. These negative feelings within individuals range along an extensive continuum, from mildly disappointed to angry, bitter and resentful. Those at the nastiest end of the continuum have the potential to poison the workplace and even if they don't, they can develop behaviours that are entirely counter productive to a harmonious and effective working unit.

This is but one example of how disharmony in the workplace can be caused. It is but one example of how an organization can unwittingly create hostility, bitterness, unhappiness and resentment within its employees.

All too often, an employee can begin down this performance and behavioural spiral and can, sadly, fail to pull out of it. Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D. and Jack J. Harris, M.Ed. of Gilmartin, Harris & Associates have written and spoken of this phenomenon and have coined the phrase ?The Continuum of Compromise?. I need not enter into a description of their work, except to say that I commend it to anyone who is experiencing these types of difficulties or anyone who is aware of a colleague who might be in this situation. Come to think of it, I commend it to anyone ? period. It's just good!

So what to do?

No matter where on the continuum an individual might find him or herself, surely there ought to be some resource made available to the employee to assist in the recovery from this sometimes lasting and potentially incapacitating attitude and/or to assist the employee to deal more positively with the disappointing results. It seems to me that there ought to be a step before EAP; something that might prevent the downward spiral and all that comes with it.

In the United States, Personal Coaching is becoming a fast-growing and effective way for individuals and teams to maximize their potential. Some of the larger, more advanced organizations in that country utilize coaching for a host of reasons ? not just to head off problems. Examination of the results achieved through coaching are described as follows in a publication by Relative Proximity Executive Coaching:

Recent Executive Coaching surveys have indicated that the return on investment is between 5 and 7 times the cost of the coaching. Significant benefits were realized in productivity, organizational strength, employee retention, customer service and overall quality. Key personal benefits were observed in the areas of relationship management, teamwork and job satisfaction.

In their study on return on investment of Executive Coaching, MetrixGlobal, LLC found as follows:

Coaching produced a 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business. Including the financial benefits from employee retention boosted the overall ROI to 788%. The study provided powerful new insights into how to maximize business impact from executive coaching. In the public sector, where profitability isn't part of the daily lexicon, the issue is not the bottom line ? the issue is performance. When considering the job security that has evolved over time within the public sector, the key to effective and efficient public sector operations is quality and consistency of individual performance. So as it turns out, it is not just those employees, managers and executives who have been through a tough situation that require some attention. It is each and every person who is employed within the federal, provincial and municipal agencies.

And Coaching can and does improve the overall health of the organization. It can and does elevate internal and external relationships to levels previously only hoped for. James Clifton, Chairman and CEO of the Gallup Organization observed as follows:

"The success of your organization doesn't depend on your understanding of economics, or marketing. It depends quite simply on your understanding the emotional economy: How each individual employee connects with your company; how each individual employee connects with your customers" Coaching moves a person from good to great. It opens doors to personal insight and moves an individual from wanting to doing; from intention to action. It enables the individual employee to explore their capabilities and potential like never before. It permits new and different perspectives on age-old conundrums that have plagued the workplace since tools were invented.

So with all of this potential at their fingertips, why aren't Agency Heads and Senior Bureaucrats rushing headlong toward acquiring these powerful resources to vastly improve their various entities?

It is my belief that in Canada, Personal/Life/Executive Coaching is not as familiar to these decision-makers as it appears to be elsewhere. Or there are popular misconceptions about the process and the typical client that cause senior executives to brush it off as unnecessary or inappropriate to their environments.

Much can be done to vastly improve the quality of service delivery in the private sector. Excellence in customer service begins within the psyche of each and every employee. Changes, repairs and improvements in employee attitudes toward their jobs and their clients can have dramatic results in terms of the interaction and relationship between front-line service delivery personnel and their clients, as well as between these same employees and their managers and supervisors.

EAP's typically try to repair damage of one form or another. It is my view that much of the damage that is caused either in the workplace or outside but brought into the workplace can be mitigated, minimized or prevented entirely. It is my view that an investment into individual employees that is focused upon the needs and aspirations of the individual sends a powerful message to the entire workforce relative to their importance within the corporate or bureaucratic food chain.

As with many things in life, you either pay me now or you pay me later. It is my strong and considered opinion that providing the availability of Personal/Life/Executive Coaching to all employees is an investment in the people that most, if not all organizations claim is their most valuable resource.

So what's stopping you?

by Robert Fitches
References and Bibliography

Bob Fitches is a former Public Servant who is a Personal Coach and Organizational Consultant and Trainer. He is a much sought after public speaker who regularly assists organizations in achieving all they can through encouraging personal excellence and Values-based methodologies. He can be reached at rjfitchesinc@bellnet.ca or at (705) 325-6164

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