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How Employee Assistance Programs can change lives: Susan's story

“I’m strong today. I’m okay. And that’s a good place to be”, says Susan Mulderrig. 

Meeting Susan for the first time, she gives off an air of confidence – but also vulnerability. Susan has been the Executive Receptionist at the TELUS Health head office for 9 years, often serving as the first point of contact for a client or employee looking for support. 

“They could be calling about their recently deceased mother’s pension”, she says, “or they could be inquiring about medical prescriptions, or how to access their EAP case worker”. The amount of questions Susan fields not only showcases the many products and services that TELUS Health offers, but also, the amount of knowledge Susan must have in her role to support TELUS Health’s clients.

But for Susan, her role goes beyond directing someone to the right department. 

“My role has evolved over the years into what I call a support triage”, she says, underscoring the high emotions of many of her callers. “When clients call, they’re often under a lot of stress. It could be the loss of a loved one, their own mental health, or tracking down a much needed prescription.”

There is without a doubt the requirement that Susan have a deep understanding of the business in order to perform her role, however, if you ask her what she thinks the most important quality she possesses is – her answer may surprise you. 

“Empathy is essential”, she says, “when I get on the phone with someone I tell them my name, I say I’m here for them, and that we’re going to figure this out together”. 

Susan’s ability to meet callers where they are, and reassure them that they will find a solution together is invaluable to clients. Susan serves as a vital, personal touchpoint that connects people with what many see as a large company.

But how did Susan get so good at it? Fielding calls with high emotions, and navigating the complexity of departments, referrals, and more? Susan credits her ability to empathize with people to a particularly meaningful call she had with a Case Manager, “Care Navigator”, when she needed the assistance of an EAP. 

“I wish I knew her name”, says Susan, “she changed my life”. 

Susan’s journey

Before Susan joined TELUS Health, she was going through one of the darkest times in her life. 

Her work and her personal life had seemingly imploded – and as many of us know, our work and our personal lives are deeply intertwined. Susan's mother had passed away, she had been recently laid off from her job, and was navigating the complexities of a particularly bad breakup. “I was mentally, emotionally, financially, and physically broken”, she says. 

When she was laid off, the company she worked for had handed her a pamphlet for the TELUS Health EAP, providing it to her to support her emotionally, and in finding a new position.

“I was desolate”, says Susan, “but I called the number”. Little did Susan know that this phone call would help set her on a new path. 

“When I called, the EAP operator stayed on the phone with me for hours when I was at my lowest”, says Susan. “I was a mess. Crying, angry, laughing...but she stuck with me”. 

Susan describes herself as being at rock bottom when she called the EAP,  but that the most important thing about the operator was that she stayed on the phone with her, throughout her highs and lows – demonstrating empathy and unwavering support. 

“I felt like there was someone who had my back, who cared for me. Not only did she listen to me, she heard me”, she says. 

The EAP operator helped Susan look for employment opportunities, referring her to a career counsellor that eventually led her to her joining her current position with TELUS Health.

Susan credits the EAP with helping her gain employment at TELUS Health – and her employment not only helping her financial situation, but also her mental health. “I love my colleagues”, she says “and every day I feel like I am helping others. I know how much the EAP operator meant to me, so everyday I try to pay that forward when a caller needs support”. 

What does Susan want others to know?

“My employment with TELUS Health, in addition to the support of the EAP saved me financially, mentally, and physically”, she says.

But while Susan had found some relief with her career at TELUS Health, as we all know, difficult periods in life are inevitable, and continue to roll in like waves in the ocean.

A few years into her employment Susan began to have some issues with a family member that drove her into despair. Knowing that she had resources available such as her EAP, she called right away to receive counselling support. 

“The best thing about the EAP is that it’s always there for you when you need it”, says Susan.

Together, her and her counsellor worked through Susan’s feelings about her situation, how to cope with them, and how to communicate going forward with the family member. 

One way Susan copes with uncomfortable feelings is by finding ways to relax and distract herself – like turning her mind to documentaries. “I like learning about people”, she says, “It’s fascinating to learn about the experiences of others, their talents, hard times, and life stories.” Susan maintains her innate curiosity, and has worked with her counsellor to find unique ways of coping that are personalized, specific to her.

Other ways Susan maintains her mental health is by exercising. This could be going to the gym, or going for a walk. “Moving my body has had a tremendous impact on my physical and mental health”, she says. Additionally, having a balanced diet and reducing alcohol consumption has also been helpful for Susan. The alcohol reduction being crucial because while it can allow us to feel relaxed, it also acts as a depressant. 

“The tools I learned at counselling have become invaluable to me”, she says with tears in her eyes, “but I always tell people that counselling only works if you work it”. 

What Susan is referring to is the effort it takes on a personal level to ensure support services actually help – the work that an individual needs to put in, in concert with their mental health professional or counsellor. 

“Life can be challenging”, she says “but I now know I can rely on myself, with the support of my counsellor, my social worker, my community and my faith”. 

What employers need to know: The value of EAP

Susan is a strong advocate for the EAP, and her passionate advocacy highlights how important employee wellbeing supports are. Without the support of her employer and the EAP, Susan would not be able to pay it forward, and provide such high quality, meaningful support to other people on the end of the phone.  

“I want people to know that there is hope for them, that TELUS Health’s programs work”, she says.

Additionally, Susan broke her wrist in the last year, and worked with her manager to ensure her workload and workday was manageable for her. This included transitioning to work-from-home until her wrist was healed enough to go back into the office, as well as health benefits that ensured her physiotherapy and rehab expenses were covered.  

If there’s one call-out that Susan wants to make to employers, it’s that: “your people are human, and if they’re not doing well, their minds will be elsewhere.”

“It’s essential that you support their people’s holistic wellbeing not only for the success of your company”, she says, “but for the greater health and wellbeing of families and communities everywhere.”