So exactly what is an EAP (a tool to increase workforce productivity)?
Not to be confused with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)! EAP stands for Employee Assistance Program. And while EAPs probably do care about the environment, their real interest is in people and the companies they work for.
EAPs are a critical management tool that save companies money and foster a safer work environment by providing confidential assistance to employees and their family members. Using professional assessment and problem resolution, EAPs help individuals manage personal problems that may affect not only their quality of life, but also can manifest as work performance problems.
EAPs got their start from Alcoholics Anonymous. Some of the early participants of AA realized the benefits of being sober on the job (such as increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and a safer work environment just to name a few) and wanted to share their discovery with coworkers they saw who were also struggling with alcohol issues. Workplace AA programs became popular and it was from these programs that the modern day Employee Assistance Program evolved.
Today, EAPs provide a broad range of services such as mental health and chemical dependency assessments, problem resolution, short term counseling, crisis intervention, critical incident stress debriefings, Drug Free Workplace Training and Management Development. They are also incredibly adept at finding resources for just about any topic you can think of including child care, elder care, legal referrals, financial issues, and a plethora of other community resource information.
Okay, so now you’re thinking “Well that sounds like a nice benefit for my employees but how exactly would having an EAP save my company money and make it a safer place to work?” In these tough economic times it’s hard to justify spending money on “extras” like an Employee Assistance Program, but while an EAP is a great benefit for employees, it should never be compared with “feel good” perks such as free movie tickets or discounts on company products. An EAP is a management tool that will improve the quality of life for your employees and improve productivity and safety throughout your company.
We all struggle with life from time to time. Most of the time when things are tough we put our head down and push through, knowing things will get better eventually. Sometimes, though, problems persist and affect us not only in our personal lives, but in our work lives as well. Ever been through a divorce? Had money problems? Gotten sued? Family member died? And let’s not forget the “positive” stressors we experience like being promoted at work, having a baby, buying a house, or getting married. They too, can cause work performance to decline. It’s nice to think we are professional enough to leave problems such as these at home, but that’s just not realistic. EAPs realize that people can’t just turn off stress while they’re at work. By offering employees access to confidential assessment and problem resolution, EAPs help employees deal with problems before they become so overwhelming that they severely affect work performance.
When an employee calls their EAP to request assistance, they are matched with an appropriate professional for an assessment. An assessment occurs in a face-to-face encounter between an employee assistance assessor and the employee. The purpose of the assessment is to determine if there is a brief situational problem that can be resolved within the EAP benefit, or if a referral for outside services under an individual’s health plan would be more appropriate.
The goal is to provide short-term problem resolution to help the employee deal with their problems and prevent it from getting to the point where it interferes with work. Issues that are commonly dealt with include but are not limited to things such as: depression, anxiety, marital issues, gay/lesbian issues, substance abuse, grief, non work related stress, work related stress, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, loneliness, self-esteem, adolescent issues, gambling problems, medical problems, interpersonal relationship problems, parenting issues, and care giving of a parent or spouse. For employees whose problems would require more than short term problem resolution as can be provided by the EAP, a referral for longer term counseling or a higher level of care is made by the employee assistance professional to a qualified counselor, usually within the employee’s health insurance network.
When a company has an EAP, the vast majority of utilization of this program by employees is what is known as “voluntary”. This is when the employee accesses the EAP of their own accord when they realize they are in need of a little help. This type of utilization is confidential and the company is never informed of which employees are using the service or why. There is also what is known as a “mandatory” referral. Management may make mandatory referrals to the EAP for employees who are experiencing work performance problems, or have had a positive drug screen. A thorough assessment is conducted and a plan is created by the EAP to address the work performance problems (many times related to personal problems), or address a substance abuse issue. The EAP’s goal is to return the employee to a productive work pace, rather than have the employer be forced to continue traveling the corrective action route leading to termination of the employee. The cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee is an expensive endeavor and it’s much more cost effective to keep an employee than it is to terminate them.
Being able to require an employee to utilize the EAP in an effort to return them to a more acceptable performance level is an invaluable tool. The EAP will help the employee identify the problem at the heart of the matter and give them the tools necessary to resolve their issue(s). Maybe they are struggling with marital issues at home, or are involved in an abusive relationship. Perhaps their child has an eating disorder or drug problem. Maybe they just don’t get along with a coworker or supervisor due to different communication styles or work styles. The EAP will help employees put together a plan to eliminate, address or otherwise resolve the problem so the employee can get back to concentrating on work while they’re at work. It’s this component of service the EAP provides that increases the bottom dollar for the company. If employees are working while they’re at work (what a novel concept!), the company’s profit margin will increase.
Now, occasionally employees struggle with substance abuse problems. It’s not news to anyone that when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol they are impaired both mentally and physically, and whether an employee is high, drunk or just distracted by personal problems they are a safety risk to the worksite – accidents increase, absenteeism increases, conflicts with coworkers increase, and performance flat lines. An EAP can help by providing chemical dependency assessments to employees who may come forward voluntarily to address concerns regarding their substance use, as well as for employees who have had a positive drug test on the job. An EAP assessor will determine the correct level of care for each employee and help them obtain the education, counseling or treatment that is most appropriate in an effort to get them on the road to recovery and back to being an efficient employee at work.
The return on investment of having an Employee Assistance Program is easy to see when one considers the cost to the company of even just a couple of employees not performing at optimum levels on the job. EAPs are actually very affordable and simple to implement. Orientations to employees are typically conducted when a company offers an EAP to inform them of this new benefit, how to access it and what services are available to them. Managers and supervisors get additional training on how to use the EAP as a management tool, and how to make a proper mandatory referral should it become necessary. EAPs continue to evolve and the types of services they provide are multifarious and amazingly comprehensive.
To learn more about EAPs check out the Employee Assistance Professionals Association at: www.eapassn.org.
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