September 20, 2021

Rethinking Employee Assistance Funds: Personal Hardship AND Disaster Relief

The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged even well-conceived corporate disaster-giving efforts, causing teams to rethink nearly every aspect of their emergency relief response.

So, where's a company to begin? With its most valuable asset: employees.

Amidst the ‘Great Resignation’, companies need to demonstrate to employees that they have their people’s best interest at heart, especially during times of strife.

According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, when organizations take a more holistic view of their employees and try to support them personally as well as professionally, they see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, as they see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organizations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

One tangible way companies can support employees is by establishing an employee assistance fund (sometimes called an employee hardship fund or employee crisis fund) that can serve dual purposes. In “normal” times, the fund can be leveraged to provide assistance for personal hardship (e.g., car accident, illness or injury, a spouse losing a job, etc.). When natural disaster strikes, be it weather or pandemic, the fund can be pivoted or amplified to provide emergency assistance quickly, more broadly, and where the need is greatest.

What is an employee assistance program? 

Employee assistance programs can take a variety of forms, ranging from relief funds to scholarships or grants to support short- and long-term recovery. What’s more, companies can customize the parameters based on the circumstance and focus. Responding efficiently and accountably in times of need often requires being proactively prepared. No matter the circumstance, this is possible if you have the systems and structures in place in advance and key employees are already familiar with how they operate.

Setting up your process and system may seem like an unnecessary delay in launching your programs. However, it is essential to enable you to assess and respond to employee hardships as well as pivot quickly when disaster strikes. Many of our clients have learned that juggling multiple Excel spreadsheets is not a viable solution, particularly in a high-stress environment. 

Other clients found that their existing internal systems weren’t flexible enough for disaster situations. Be sure to think through contingencies if this is your situation as well.

What is the right system for your programs?

Here are some questions to ponder when considering relief fund management platforms for supporting an employee assistance and disaster response program:

  • How will the platform function in “normal” times?
  • Will it be easily accessible to the bulk of our workforce?
  • Will it allow us to pivot to accommodate other use cases?
  • Has it been field-tested in high-stress disaster situations?
  • Who can access applications, reviewing rights, and reporting?
  • How flexible and configurable is the platform for our company’s needs?

  • What type of reporting will we get? Can we gather quantitative and qualitative feedback?

Applying lessons learned from the pandemic

As challenging as the Covid-19 pandemic has been, it has offered valuable lessons that can be applied to the creation of an employee assistance fund. Two to keep in mind:

  • Be flexible. It’s unlikely you’ll get it exactly right out of the gates. Stay open to employee feedback and know that iterations will be likely.

  • Be empathetic. If employees are coming to you in a time of need, it’s likely a very stressful time for them. Focus on listening and providing additional resources wherever possible.


Reality check

So, what if you’re reading this and a crisis has already struck your community? We understand that while we all want to be ready for anything, sometimes even important programs get delayed. While not ideal, it is possible to flip the equation on its head by starting with implementing a disaster relief program and then using that foundation to build out a process for ongoing employee assistance needs once the crisis passes. Many of our clients needed to do this when COVID-19 initially shut down businesses and communities. 

One word of advice: Be sure the relief fund management platform you select can not only be implemented quickly but is also flexible enough to then adjust to longer-term programs that will become the heart of your employee assistance fund (as outlined above).


Get Started Today

Six months before the world found itself dealing with a pandemic, The Science of Care reported that 60% of workers who said they felt cared for planned to stay with their companies for three or more years, as opposed to only 7% of those who said they don't feel cared for. The report defined "care" as providing what's necessary for the "health, welfare, maintenance and protection" of someone or something and their needs.

Employee assistance funds are one very visible way your company can show care for its employees. Want to get started? Get in touch to schedule your personal demo today.


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