Employee Assistance Programme or EAP, was first introduced into the UK in the early 1980's and have continued to grow.  The first main users of EAPs in the UK were those companies that were subsidiaries of US corporations - these are the companies that brought the support systems.  Many of the US companies had an EAP in place in the States and wanted to offer the same benefits to their UK workers.

Stress is now the second highest reported work-related health issue in the EU-15 Member States. At any one time there are many thousands of workers in Ireland either out of work or underperforming at work with some form of mental health disorder.  These types of issues, which include anxiety, depression, major mood disorders, stress, illness resulting from workplace bullying and the psychological aspects of violence, are assuming much greater importance in the workplace.*


A survey conducted by the Small Firms Association in 2006 reports that absenteeism costs small businesses an estimated €692 million per annum.

It identifies stress as the main cause of absenteeism from work (SFA, 2006). The survey also highlighted that the highest levels of absenteeism occurred in the electronics industry, which averaged 16 days (7.1%), followed by the metals/engineering sector at 11 days (4.7%) in comparison to the national average of 9 days.*


In 2004, almost 60,000 persons in employment suffered an illness (QNHS, 2004). By far the largest type reported was musculoskeletal disorders such as back, muscle and repetitive strain (50%) followed by mental health issues such as stress (20%) followed by overall fatigue (18%). These mirror the major workplace health issues across Europe as evidenced in the Fourth European Workplace Survey (EFILWC, 2005).*


This does not necessarily mean that work is the source of the stress, but it may be a contributing factor and it does impact on an individual’s performance and overall work ability. Mental disorders are ranked second in the global burden of disease and five of the ten leading causes of

disability include mental health conditions such as depression (DHC, 2006).*


Stress occurs when the demands of the work environment exceed the employee’s ability to cope with or control these demands (Cox et al., 2000). Stress can have emotional, cognitive, behavioural and psychological impacts including depressive disorders. It also has many physiological impacts, including heart disease and gastrointestinal diseases. In addition, stress can also contribute to musculoskeletal

disorders. Symptoms include raised blood pressure, chest pain, sleep disruption and irritability. An extensive national survey of employees’ attitudes to the changing Irish workplace (O’Connell et al., 2004) found significant levels of work-related stress, with 72% of workers finding their work stressful. Too much stress ultimately has a negative impact both on the health of the employee and the performance of the business.

Sources of stress occur in the context and content of work. In relation to the context of work, role ambiguity and conflict is a common source of stress, while work overload is an example of work content causing stress.*


If stress is not managed, it will ultimately result in absenteeism and if the stressors are not removed, it is likely the employee on returning to work will end up on sick leave once more. Stress was identified as the major cause of absence in small and micro enterprises in Ireland in 2006, according to the Small Firms Association (SFA, 2006).* 


The SFA's 2008 Report shows that 5.3 million days were lost in 2007 in Ireland costing on average small businesses €793 million per annum.  Avine McNally, Assistant Director of the Small Firms Association, stated  “Back pain/injury and stress are the most commonly cited problems on medical certs.  Employers should ensure that they are fulfilling their duty of care to their employees by including manual handling and stress when conducting risk assessments as part of their review of their Health & Safety Statements. It is a concern that stress remains one of the high reasons for absenteeism, as aside from the employees’ absence, stress can lead to a less productive workforce, faulty decision-making, and ultimately the possibility of legal action being taken against the company for negligence or constructive dismissal”. Firms should implement a specific policy on workplace stress. They should educate employees on stress management, while being receptive to the potential causes of stress and the early warning signs of stress. On a practical level, they should also ensure that their Employers Liability Insurance will protect them against any compensation awards that may arise from this area”. (SFA, 2008)

The total annual cost due to stress related illness in the UK is estimated at £5 billion with 20% of this being alcohol and drug related, the CBI estimates that 187 million working days a year are lost through stress and the World Health Organisation calls job stress a 'worldwide epidemic'.

EAP users are industries, companies and operations of companies where safety is of paramount importance.  The oil industry is a user of EAP as employees must be sharp and alert for safety factors and not have their mind otherwise occupied with problems and stress, as a miscalculation or inattention to detail can have fatal repercussions.

Another area for EAP is and should be used is transport - sea, air, trains and road.  All of these forms of transport involve moving or encompassing large amount of people and a lack of concentration or inability to handle stress can have fatal consequences.  Ships’ captains, airline pilots, train, bus/coach, truck drivers would all benefit.  A point I would like to add that perhaps the ‘normal man in the street’ if less stressed may drive better and thus reduce accidents on roads and motorways, as well as the current trend of ‘road rage’.

Another user for EAP would be fast moving industries and professions, such as in the City of London where long hours are worked, high level of attention must be maintained, a ‘dog eat dog’ scenario exists every day, you must be better all the time otherwise someone else will take your place.  Many companies are acquired or merged so hence many highly trained and expensive people are pushed to the limit (and many beyond) of their personal stress level.

How can you help your work force - your employees - your management - yourself???

Contact Deborah V Evans-Barry on 00353 (0) 61 700 882 or email from the Contacts Page

* Information taken from Workplace Health and Well-Being Strategy Report of Expert Group May 2008 - Ireland


    TEL: Ireland 061 323 600   TEL: International 00353 61 323 600

Email: emofree @iol.ie