Full slate of Employee Assistance Program services still offered while working from home

Think back to your first days at a new job. How many times did you ask one of your new co-workers where to locate something, what form you needed to fill out or who you needed to ask? Now, picture yourself starting your new job and instead of being in an office, surrounded by new co-workers, you are in your spare bedroom, working from home.

Fortunately for NIU employees a few tweaks to existing Human Resource Services programs provide ways to get the assistance and guidance they need.

The L.E.T.S. (Leading Employees to Success) New Employee program is designed to assist new employees and their supervisors during the crucial transition time of the first few months at a new job. The program now features twice weekly, voluntary Microsoft Teams meetings with Susan Swegle, the training and development specialist, and discussion groups where new employees can share information.

“I facilitate discussion,” Swegle said. “’What’s working for you, what’s not working for you, how’s communication going with supervisors and co-workers?’ We talk about challenges, and it’s a chance for them to hear from other new employees and how they are handling things.

“L.E.T.S. is a resource funnel, it’s geared to guiding people to the resources that they can use.”

Though the university is currently in a hiring “chill” there will be occasions where new employees need to be brought on, and that process has also gone online. The PowerPoint presentation that new hires see during their onboarding has been enhanced and L.E.T.S. information has been added.

Twenty-five new faculty and staff have been hired since the shelter-in-place took effect. Six of them started the day before NIU began working remotely, so none of those employees have spent more than a day in the office for face-to-face training.

“The point of L.E.T.S. is to keep new employees connected,” she said. “You need to be in communication as much as possible when we’re in these situations.”

Another benefit that’s offered is career and education development support for employees who no longer work at NIU. They can receive assistance with resume writing, cover letters and searches until they transition to a new job.

As for the services provided through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) all of them are still available even with most employees working off-campus.“Our counseling is still available,” said Lesley Gilbert, assistant director, training and development. “It’s free and confidential to all faculty, staff, retirees and their dependents.”

EAP offers programs that she says employees aren’t always aware of. Those include coaching with supervisors, coaching with employees on issues that are affecting them in or out of the workplace, and career and educational advisement.

She says EAP quickly made the transition to online training once the shelter-in-place began, and has offered nearly all of their regular sessions on topics varying form fear and loss, to helping employees make the transition from working on-campus to home, to making sense of what’s going on.

“We know when we go back to campus that training is going to look different for a while,” Gilbert said. “We’re still trying to make it a ‘hands on’ process without us being there to help you put your hands on it.”

Wellness programming has continued with sessions on gardening and making masks at home. They partnered with Recreation and Wellness to show employees how to set up their own workout routines and stay active at home.

Brian Smith, director of EAP, says it’s important to remember that their services are available for employees, their spouses, dependents and even retirees.

“Collectively it’s our responsibility to be present, available and responsive to all the needs on campus, and not just for employees, but their family members,” he said. “The employees well-being is our commitment,” Smith said, “We take that seriously, be that educationally, emotionally, career-wise, or family wise.”

And, EAP will play a role as we start to return to campus. “We working with the task forces that have been set up,” he said. “We’re in the process of developing toolkits for employees and supervisors that will include information on working remotely and making the transition back to working on campus.”

To access EAP services contact Karen Smith, program specialist at (815) 753-9191 or email ksmith12@niu.edu.

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