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Behavioral HealthBlog

The Importance of Employee Assistance Programs

An employee assistance program is a benefit that is offered to employees to help manage a variety of potential challenges that might affect job performance. There are many benefits of providing an EAP to employees, including increased productivity, low costs compared with the potential gains and a high ROI.

Stress is rising in the workplace, and employees aren’t always reaching out for help. A variety of stressors are creating challenges, such as co-worker conflicts, large workloads, worry about job security – and personal problems. Businesses can work to manage factors such as work-life balance and worries about job security, but they don’t always know what is happening in an employee’s personal life and how that is affecting job performance.

Personal lives are reported to account for 20 percent of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. Worries about job security motivate employees to keep these issues to themselves, because they worry about potential job loss. The effects of personal issues, however, do carry over into the workplace, and potential problems include decreased performance, more days missed from work and poor customer service.

Employee assistance programs are designed to help employees manage these challenges. Estimates show that 77 percent of employers offer these types of programs to their employees. But how do employee assistance programs work, and why are they important in the workplace? Understanding the details can help determine whether these programs are right for your company.

What is an employee assistance program?

An employee assistance program is a benefit that is offered to employees to help manage a variety of potential challenges that might affect job performance. For example, imagine a mother who just learned that her teenage daughter is struggling with substance abuse. Distraught and unsure of where to turn, the mother is worried and stressed at work, and it affects her productivity and job performance. Adding to the upset is the fact that her daughter’s school contacts her at work to explain that her child missed school again.

An EAP is designed to provide resources in these types of situations. The mother can get in touch with the EAP, explain the situation, and get resources and guidance on the next steps to get help for her child. This would help reduce stress and allow the employee to improve focus at work while seeking help.

This is only one example of what EAP providers can do for employees, but there are a variety of services available, including those for the following situations.

Conflicts in the workplace. For example, Jane recently got a new co-worker on her team, and there is immediate conflict. They work closely together and can’t agree on how to most efficiently handle tasks, making the workday stressful. Jane wants to reduce that workplace conflict but isn’t sure where to start. An EAP can connect her with a professional to provide suggestions and advice on how to manage difficult co-workers and resolve the situation.

Mental health issues. Many employees struggle with mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression or anger management. Some employees aren’t directly experiencing an issue but have a loved one affected by mental health challenges. For instance, an employee is struggling with a spouse who has ongoing depression. This creates stress in the employee’s home, and she comes to work each day worried and distracted. An EAP can connect that employee with the right resources to seek help.

Health and caregiving issues. Imagine that an employee’s parent was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The parent has been living with the employee for years, but due to the illness, the demands of caretaking have significantly changed. An EAP can connect that employee with resources to figure out the next steps.

Legal and family advice. An employee is navigating a difficult divorce situation and worries about a major custody disagreement. Feeling anguish over the thought of things not going his way, he worries daily, and it reduces his productivity and happiness on the job. An EAP can help provide family and legal advice to get him on the right path to resolving his challenges.

Grief counseling. There are a variety of issues that can cause grief in an employee’s life: everything from the loss of a loved one to a traumatic event in the workplace or in their personal life. For example, an employee was recently at work when the building experienced a major fire. Tragically, one of the co-workers was fatally injured, and now the employee is suffering from grief and anxiety. An EAP can quickly provide the employee with the right resources to get them on the path to healing.

These are only a few examples of potential EAP services. There are a variety of services available that help employees navigate difficult personal circumstances. Having access to these benefits at no cost allows employees to feel supported during difficult times. Having peace of mind allows employees to feel more secure in reaching out and offsets some of their reservations about getting help.

Understanding the purpose of an EAP

The purpose of an EAP is to help employees balance personal lives with work. The most dedicated and talented employees struggle with separating work and personal challenges, and it’s important to support employees during tough times. For example, let’s say an employee has a strong track record in sales. Suddenly her sales drop, and her performance is so low that the manager is considering putting her on a plan for improvement. What the manager doesn’t know is that a close friend recently passed away, and the employee is struggling with grief. Getting to work in the morning is difficult, let alone meeting sales goals. She continues to miss many days of work, and the situation is only getting worse.

The EAP is designed to help that employee early in the process. When she starts to recognize that something is wrong, she can reach out to the EAP provider and discuss the problem and get connected to the right resources. Fewer days of work will be missed, she will start feeling better and the overall situation will be greatly improved.

Telling employees about EAPs isn’t a one-time task but rather an ongoing process. Sharing those details continually and communicating the large variety of services available through the program is key. Employees might think that an EAP is only for mental health challenges and not realize that it can also help with things such as navigating workplace conflicts. Employees might receive information on EAPs during the new-hire process, but the resources need to continue to be presented so they stay top of mind.

Managers can also be helpful in communicating the purpose of an EAP. If they know that an employee is struggling in their personal life, they can provide details about the EAP to that employee.

Understanding how EAPs work

EAPs are paid 100 percent by the employer and are administered through a third-party company. Employees can feel confident that because it’s administered outside of the company, the personal details shared are confidential. The employee can speak freely about whatever challenge they’re facing and know that the employer won’t have those details. The employee can’t take an EAP with them when leaving the job, unlike traditional health benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Labor and ACA guidelines:

“EAP programs ‘are considered to be excepted benefits, but only if the program does not provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care or treatment.”

Most EAPs provide a preset number of counseling referrals and sessions. This typically ranges from one to three, depending on the program details. Sessions don’t cost the employee out of pocket, but if the employee wants to continue after the free sessions, they can do so at their own expense.

The process works by the employee reaching out and the EAP learning more about the problem and then making relevant referrals. Depending on the benefit details, sessions may be available in a variety of formats, such as phone calls, video conferencing or in-person visits. Understanding employee demographics is useful when selecting a provider. For example, if most of your employees are millennials, they may prefer videoconferencing over in-person counseling sessions.

Key benefits of EAPs to employers

Employers spend a large amount of funds on providing a variety of benefits to employees, including health insurance programs. They might wonder about the specific benefits of EAPs. Is investing in this category of care truly worth it? There are many benefits of providing an EAP to employees, including increased productivity, low costs compared with the potential gains and a high ROI. Here are a few benefits to consider.

Employee productivity is improved. Employees struggling with personal problems have difficulty focusing at work. They may even struggle enough that they call in sick frequently. As a result, the company is affected by potential losses. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that companies lose 36 percent of their productivity as a result of employee absences. Introducing an EAP can help solve this problem. Studies have shown that implementing an EAP can lower time lost at work by 33 percent and decrease or work-related accidents by 65 percent.

The cost of EAPs is reasonable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that productivity losses resulting from absenteeism cost employers approximately $225 billion annually in the United States, which breaks down to $1,685 per employee. The cost of EAPs varies by program, but typically ranges from $10 per employee to $100 per employee, which is a significant savings compared with the potential absenteeism. Once the program is in place, it’s important that employers continue to communicate the benefits to employees so that it’s top of mind when a problem in their lives occurs.

EAPs help the company save money. Businesses are spending an increasing amount of money on healthcare costs each year. Mental health challenges alone cost employers an estimated $20 billion annually and account for 75 percent of short-term disabilities. The ROI on EAPs is significant, with a return that is 8 times every $1 invested. Businesses that invest in an EAP can reduce overall health costs, lower medical insurance usage and have fewer absences.

EAPs improve employee retention. A positive work environment benefits all employees. Many employees stay on the job due to friendships with co-workers. It’s reported that 51 percent of employees stay at a job due to positive relationships with co-workers. The work environment can be improved when people can get access to the resources required to handle challenges in their personal lives. EAPs help employees stay present and happy at work. When issues come up, they are resolved faster.

Offering EAPs to employees demonstrates the employer and human resources are genuinely concerned about the employee’s happiness, but it also helps increase workplace productivity. Employees know that if they have a difficult time in their lives, there are resources that can help them navigate those situations.

Fostering improved employee health

The psychological and financial costs of stress, mental health issues and employee personal challenges take a toll on business. Employees are a company’s largest asset, and one of the best ways to protect that asset is ensuring that employees are happy and healthy. Employees who are happy at work are more pleasant to customers and get along easier with co-workers. This creates a better work environment and a stronger company culture. Knowing what is going on in an employee’s personal life, however, isn’t easy. The employee might be having work-related problems, but the manager has no idea things are falling apart at home.

The EAP closes this gap. The manager doesn’t need to know what is going on at home, but the EAP does – and can provide the employee with the required support. Relative to the potential benefit, EAPs are low-cost programs that provide significant gain for employees while helping companies to minimize potential loss resulting from these challenges, making the EAP an integral part of any company’s employee wellness program.

Choosing the Right EAP

A variety of EAPs are available, but employers should be aware that the more visible and used an EAP is, the more return their investment will yield. David Sockel, IBH Chief Commercial Officer explains, “Some of our larger customers have come to us because they are seeking more personalized and accessible resources. We understand the EAP is longer a one-size-fits-all service, so we go above and beyond to deliver an individualized experience to every EAP participant, while closely supporting the workplace and its leaders.”

People today increasingly expect simple tools that are specifically tailored to their needs, and they want to use them on their time schedules. That’s why Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) is focused on providing boutique-level EAP services on a national scale. As a result, employers can offer their employees more flexible options, including technology, telehealth, and specialized resources for specific populations, including students, public employers, and first responders.