EAP Director Explores People’s Problems and Concerns During Pandemic

David Francis, director of UConn's Employee Assistance Program, talks about employee well-being, mental health, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

a man at his desk

David Francis of the UConn EAP

UConn’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a free and confidential service for employees and their household dependents. EAP provides private assessment, brief counseling, and/or referrals for additional services to assist with personal and/or work-related problems that could potentially impact job performance, health, mental, and emotional well-being.

The EAP Office can be reached by calling 860-486-1307 on Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and more information can we found at its website.

David Francis is the director of the EAP and has been at UConn since 2006, when he started the EAP at UConn Health. He recently answered questions about employee well-being, mental health, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you think people are doing in general as the pandemic continues on?

There’s been an evolution in what’s happening for people. When this was first popping and we were getting our brains around COVID and people were starting to work from home, we had a lot of questions that came to EAP that were practical issues. People would say ‘Oh my gosh, my kids are home from school, how am I going to be able to remote in, my husband remotes in too.’  Day cares were closing, schools were closing, we saw a lot of practical problems people were having.

What I would say has happened since is a fair number of people have settled into a rhythm. When l listen to people who are concerned nowadays, they basically fall into two groups. One is where people have home circumstances that are a challenge. Maybe there are difficulties in the marriage, you have kids acting out, something like that. People aren’t getting respites from their families. There has been an explosion of family-type issues for folks. The other is with school ending, what is summer going to be like? What is going to be available? Will there be summer camps? Is babysitting going to be available? Plans for the summer have been a real challenge for people.

How are the frontline workers doing that are battling the pandemic?

We have gotten a lot more familiar with what kind of means there are to protect our front line workers, equipment-wise. It has become more available. People were being asked to work extra hours and put in very challenging situations. Now I think we are settling into more a way of thinking, ‘Now the foot is off the gas, maybe we had the first wave and we are settling back to a bit of a norm.’ How do we now plug back in with our spouses, our partners? How do you maintain contact with your kids, and how do you being to make arrangements for what the new world order might be?

We have a comfort room concept at UConn Health and that has worked out. Snacks and food are available, and support. It has not been easy and I’ve been equally impressed by folks on the maintenance and cleaning staffs.

What can people do just for themselves at this time?

People are saying, ‘I am handling my kids, I am a single parent, I’m busting my chops, I’m remoting in, I have to go get groceries, and I don’t have any time for myself. What do I do?’ I am seeing people like that and helping them carve time into their schedule to do something healthy.  Can you find an online meditation?  What can you do to unhook? How much media can you take? You can get inundated when you flip the TV on first thing in the morning and hear a litany of blame, concern, worry, lack of clarity. So there are a number of people I am talking to about clicking media off a little bit and taking a little distance from all the information and negative drumbeats.

What can people do for others that they might be concerned about?

In EAP, we are frequently the first line to hear some of those concerns. A number of people say ‘I am concerned about my colleague so and so. He or she lives alone, I understand they have a lot of problems going on.’ We might strategize a little bit on how to make a gentle outreach to that person and help them get in touch with some resources. Those kinds of things are out there. It’s a time when a lot of people are feeling isolated and separate. People are new to an area, not in a relationship, just broke up….I’ve heard from a lot of those types of folks.

What is your message of hope for people?

I am reading a book about World War II and the bombings of Britain and you look at what those people’s experience was. They had their normal lives going on and then, all of a sudden, these random events would occur and they would be put at risk. How did they manage to get through that? We talk a lot about the concept of resilience and how to build your inner strength. I have noticed a lot of people are finding that they are more in touch with what kind of things that are important. I would say that I am hearing how people spend quality time with their families, in ways they don’t think about so much  in different times.

I think we have built an institutional resilience and we have some strengths that we are coming in contact with. This has really been a change event for society. It’s been really interesting to see how the society has been able to respond and how we have been able to prioritize some of our own personal needs and the things we are trying to accomplish.