Public Administration Minister Allyson West, second from left, speaks with, from left, consultant Keegan Bharath, managing director of Josal Consulting Daryl Joseph and Ag Chief Personnel Officer Wendy Barton at the review of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for the Public Service at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, on Friday.
– Anisto Alves
MANY public servants do not think their managers and employers consider their mental health to be of great importance.
This was revealed by a survey of 1,207 public service workers done by the Personnel Office of the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).
The survey’s findings were discussed at the launch of the assessment phase of the review of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in the public service. It was held at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, on Friday morning.
In January, the Office of the CPO announced it would be reviewing the programme.
Approved by Cabinet in 2004, the EAP offers free assistance to employees in the following areas: health, marital, family, financial, alcohol, drug, legal, emotional, stress “or other personal issues that may affect job performance.”
Consultant Keagon Bharath, who presented the findings, said the survey was virtually distributed from mid-May to the end of May 2023.
A total of 79.1 per cent of respondents were women, 18.9 per cent were men, and two per cent identified as other.
It included workers from age 18 up to “over 65.”
On the topic of psychological safety, which Bharath explained includes policies, practices and procedures for workers’ psychological safety, he said it is an area of concern.
A total of 52.8 per cent of the respondents believe that the psychological well-being of staff is not prioritised by their employers, while 60.7 per cent felt that senior management did not consider the psychological health of employees to be of great importance.
Just under 50 per cent of employees, he said, felt their contributions to resolving those concerns were taken into consideration by senior management, while 58.4 per cent felt no participation and consultation took place with respect to psychological health and safety.
He then said respondents took a neutral position when it came to trusting their supervisors.
However, he noted that 30.5 per cent of employees said before the covid19 pandemic, mental health was seen as important, but during the pandemic, 32 per cent said it was not important at all.
As for post-pandemic, 36 per cent said mental health was being taken as “extremely important.”
Public Administration Minister Allyson West, as well as an official from the Energy Ministry, questioned if the sample size was sufficient.
Bharath said there were time constraints and they went on the basis of trying to get as many responses as possible during that time.
“Generally speaking, these types of surveys, the approach was the more people we can get, the better than to try to take a rigorous, scientific approach…” he said.
West then asked what was the intended/target sample size, to which Bharath said there was not any.
West said when she asked the CPO’s office if there had been an increase in the number of people who use EAP services post-pandemic, given that more people felt their mental health was being considered important, she was told there was “no real change in the numbers.”
On the topic of work/family life balance, the findings showed that 56.2 per cent of employees felt “too exhausted” to participate in family activities after completing their duties at work.
He said that was an area of concern as well.
Between 2010 and 2021, the total expenditure for the EAP was $43,133,574. The revised estimate for 2022 was $3,247,960 and the estimate for 2023 was $3,732,800.
Bharath added that the Education Ministry had the highest expenditure for the period 2010-2021 but did not indicate an amount.
During her feature address, West said she supported the “timely initiative” and felt pleased to see how many key stakeholders attended.
“It demonstrates your interest in the wellness of public officers. I see your presence here this morning as indicative of your commitment to the successful implementation,” she said.
She said while the government set a “robust development agenda” for achieving socio-economic prosperity, “non-progressive attitudes and behaviours that show up as low productivity and negative work ethos among the general working population and public institutions are challenges that this government has to deal with as it works towards achievement of its national goals.
She said all human resource management units must be on the “cutting edge of human resource management systems.
“The government supports this programme and encourages all legitimate departments to do not have a fully functioning EAP to get on board. The EAP helps you to help your employees deal with their issues and become more productive in the new environment.”
This, she said, requires employers to be cognisant of their employees’ well-being.
Acting CPO Wendy Barton said mental health is an integral component of health, adding that the importance of strong mental health has “been receiving increasing prominence.
“As an employer, it is my duty to provide support systems such as the EAP for the benefit of all employees.
“This is a critical human resource intervention strategy geared toward improving employee well-being and productivity, and has been proven as a wise investment by organisations to reduce overall health costs, lower medical insurance usage, and result in fewer work absences.”
In recognising the value of employees as integral to the success of a proper student, Cabinet approved the first EAP policy in 2004 and a revised policy in December 2009,
She said while a lot of time and energy was put into creating the EAP, its implementation “has not been as successful as we envisaged.
“(The survey’s results) will feed into a review of the EAP policy document to examine the system and ensure that all eligible government employees and their dependants have access to the same level of support.”
Daryl Joseph, psychologist and president-elect for the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association, said poor mental health in the workplace was not a silent killer but a “silent disabler.
“Poor mental health disables focus, motivation, production, teamwork, resilience, and responsive customer service.
“Among those at marginal, poor mental health disables compassion, equity, fairness, and humanity. Employees typically spend eight hours a day in the workplace.”
He said if there were social and behavioural problems in society, there were more than likely have the same issues in the workplace.
“A fully functional EAP can’t fix every employee problem, but it can disrupt them and it can make a serious dent in what we experience daily in our beloved country.
He urged employers to avoid focusing solely on the counselling aspect of EAP and to pay attention to the “tremendous benefits to be gained by incorporating EAP services to management as well as the overall organisation.”
He called for a “fully-featured EAP that adheres to international best practices.”