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Employee assistance program always ready to help

In its ongoing effort to ensure the health and wellness of staff and faculty, Queen’s University provides access to the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

[EFAP Poster]And while employees are made aware of this valuable resource, many perhaps don’t know the range of services available to them and their families.

Since 2014, Homewood Health, with more than 35 years of experience in the field, has been the provider of the EFAP – a confidential, professional counselling and wellness service that provides support when needed, including counselling, a range of lifestyle and specialty services, plus a variety of online services.

In her role as manager of Return to Work Services at Queen’s, Sydney Downey also oversees the management of the sick leave benefit and says that currently, the majority of workplace absences are related to mental health. With mental health being a key focus for the university, the resources offered by the EFAP, Ms. Downey points out, are valuable tools that not only can help during a time of difficulty but are meant to be used preventively by providing the needed support before the employee is faced with a medical leave.

Of course, to better utilize the EFAP, members need to have a better understanding of the resources available. And that’s something the EFAP committee at Queen’s is working towards right now.

“I definitely think there is a large misconception about what the EFAP is for and I believe that the majority of our EFAP committee would agree that we see people accessing these services maybe when it’s too late, if at all,”Ms. Downey says. “It’s not something that needs to only be used for major life challenges; it can be used for day-to-day challenges as well. That’s, in fact, what it is designed for. We would rather people be accessing their EFAP really early on to access some of the help and support structures that they may require to better prepare them if the challenges get larger and hopefully effectively preventing challenges from being unmanageable.”

Counselling – whether in-person with a professional or through a phone-based or online service – is the most commonly used service as members deal with the effects of grief, stress and anxiety. But the EFAP offers much more when it comes to counselling, Ms. Downey explains, including for family support, addiction, major life transitioning, childcare and parenting, as well as elder and family care.

And while counselling is a particular strength of the EFAP and Homewood, there also are many other services related to lifestyle and wellness.

“We also have nutritional support services, physical activity coaching services, career development services, financial management as well as legal services,” Ms Downey says. “So there exists a wide variety. There exists an abundance of online learning courses people can take as well as exciting programming such as 12 Weeks to Wellness.”

In the 12 Weeks to Wellness program, members are assisted in setting personal goals for improving their overall health and are provided support to assist in goal attainment.  Goals could range from smoking cessation, to weight loss, to running a marathon. 

Another key misconception among members, Ms. Downey says, is that the services offered through the EFAP cost extra. That’s not the case – it’s all free, including for family, and covered through the employees’ benefits package.

It’s also important for members to understand that the services are also confidential, says Coleen McLachlan, senior account executive at Homewood.

“The number one question that people can have about an EFAP is whether it is truly confidential — and it is,” she says. “The program is confidential, within the limits of the law, plus it’s voluntary, so members call us directly and no one at Queen’s will know that you used the service.”

One of the programs that Ms. Downey would like to see get a bit more attention is the key-person support line for managers at Queen’s. 

“Through the program, if a manager would like support in working through an emotional situation in the workplace, this is a confidential advice line they can access, and, in many cases, they will speak with a clinical manager directly,” she says.  “So there’s also real value, not just as a supportive tool they can recommend to their staff, but also for them to help them go into a difficult meeting.”

Still, as in any workplace, counselling services will always be a needed resource and both Ms. Downey and Ms. McLachlan point out that counsellors are made available right here in Kingston and the surrounding area for members’ convenience.

For more information on the Queen’s EFAP, visit queensu.ca/humanresources/employees/efap.html.

For 24-hour EFAP services call 1-800-663-1142 (English) or 1-866-398-9505 (French).