Teacher counselling improves student outcomes

Providing counselling services for teaching staff not only helps improve their mental health and wellbeing, but also provides long-term benefits for their students – and attractive cost-effective outcomes for SA’s Department for Education.

Research into the Department’s existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has found that every dollar spent on counselling services for staff returns over three dollars of benefits through improved staff absenteeism and “presenteeism” (full job performance).

The published research took a fresh, expansive view of cost-effectiveness that encompasses long-term outcomes, according to the report’s senior author Professor Donald Shepard.

“To incorporate the full impact of employee-funded counselling services for teachers, you also have to measure how their good health ultimately benefits student outcomes,” says Professor Shepard, who this year came to Adelaide as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Applied Public Policy at Flinders University and Carnegie Mellon University Australia.

The results are significant. Professor Shepard says fiscal benefits of $A1,365.79 per counselled employee were 3.34 times greater than the cost ($A409.27) – a highly favourable result. Including a projected increase to student lifetime earnings of about $A76,000 per year would raise the benefit-cost ratio to 3.51.

“The issues at stake here are broad. Most large organisations – both in the US and Australia – have EAP programs, so this research can be applied and will be of interest to many international stakeholders,” he says.

The Journal of Workplace Behavioural Health has just posted the article, “Cost-benefit analysis of an employee assistance program for a geographically dispersed workforce in South Australia”, by Tony Elson, Susan Heinrich, Jane Richards, Rama Wirawan and Donald Shepard. The article is the first known controlled benefit-cost evaluation of an EAP.

The research began during Professor Shepard’s stay in Adelaide as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Applied Public Policy at Flinders University and Carnegie Mellon University in Australia. It was finalised following his recent return to the USA, where he heads the Cost and Value Group at Brandeis University in Boston.

In addition to quantifying the benefits and costs the Department’s EAP, the article also addressed the challenges of staff outside of metropolitan Adelaide, and especially those in remote areas.

While telephone sessions were available for EAP users, in-person sessions were better accepted.

The average number of sessions by in-person only participants is 49% higher than by telephone-only users.

This preference for in-person sessions presents a significant challenge for staff in regional and remote areas, where the nearest counsellor would be many hours away.

National survey data indicated that regional and remote residents face greater mental health risks challenges than those in major cities.  However, utilisation of EAP services was significantly lower for Education Department employees outside metropolitan Adelaide compared to those in the city.

The study recommends proactive measures to increase utilisation of EAP services outside of Adelaide, including seminars, videos, business cards and other promotional materials for this beneficial service.

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