Your employees have a lot on their minds. In addition to more work and stress caused by a reduced work force and fewer resources in many companies, your employees could be facing personal problems you don’t even know about marital and family issues, bankruptcy and addictions, just to name a few.
All of these issues can affect their job performance and conduct at work, resulting in decreased productivity, high rates of absenteeism and on-the-job accidents.
As an employer, you can’t solve your employees’ personal problems, but offering an employee assistance program can help minimize the impact of those problems on work performance and return your employees to full productivity, says Marty Hauser, president of SummaCare, Inc.
Smart Business spoke with Hauser about how giving employees access to an employee assistance program can increase productivity, decrease the number of accidents and lead to happier, healthier employees.
What is an employee assistance program?
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a workplace-based program offered alongside health insurance benefits and is designed to help employees address issues they may be facing in their personal lives. These issues can include bankruptcy, the death of a loved one, drug abuse, alcoholism, divorce and gambling addictions, and each can impact an employee’s performance and, ultimately, if not dealt with, a company’s bottom line.
An EAP is typically offered to both employees and their family members at no cost to them. The process generally consists of an assessment of the problem by a licensed professional, short-term counseling usually over the phone but in some instances in person and referral services, with the goal of restoring employees to full productivity.
Services are available 24 hours a day, and any interaction with the EAP is confidential, although information can be disclosed to an employer with a written release from the employee. Generally, the employee decides to engage the services of the EAP, but an employer can refer the employee to the service as a result of behavioral problems at work.
What is the return on investment for a company offering an EAP?
Because employee use of EAPs is confidential, for a long time, ROI was purely anecdotal, with EAPs citing inspirational stories about employees who turned their lives around. But recent studies have provided more solid data, showing that for every dollar spent, companies average a return of between $5 and $14.
Employee assistance programs are generally considered to be an employee benefit, as employers bear the full cost of the program, but employers also benefit, getting a return on that investment through increased productivity, fewer sick days taken, a decrease in the number of health insurance and workers’ compensation claims, less workplace violence and a decrease in the number of accidents on the job.
And beginning this year, companies may begin seeing an even greater return on investment as a result of the Federal Mental Health Parity Act, which went into effect on January 1. The act says that insurance plans covering more than 50 people can no longer place a cap on mental health benefits unless the same caps are applied to medical benefits. As a result, many employers fear that the cost of mental health benefits could skyrocket. An EAP can help manage those costs by acting as a supplement to an employer’s insurance plan, helping employees resolve issues before the situation escalates to the point where they are accessing their mental health benefits. But even if the EAP can’t help the employee find a resolution, it can still help match that person with the most appropriate mental health services, saving the time and expense of shopping around, especially because finding the right service the first time can add up to significant savings for a company.
How can a business determine if it could benefit from an EAP?
Nearly every business can benefit by offering this service to its employees. At some point, every employee and every manager and executive will face issues in his or her personal life that will affect performance at work.
By offering an EAP, you can lessen the effect of those issues, positively impacting both your employees’ personal lives and their impact on your company.
What should an employer look for when choosing an EAP?
There are several factors to consider when selecting an EAP provider. Before you select an EAP provider, look at your health insurance offering and see what, if any, services are included in your benefits. These could include things like preventive and/or wellness services that encourage and promote happier, healthier living, mental health and substance abuse coverage and programs targeted at smoking cessation.
When you are ready to choose an EAP vendor, look for one whose primary business is providing EAP services. Employees should be able to call the EAP directly, with the phone answered by a live person, and the first counseling session should occur within no more than a few days of the initial call.
Counseling should be provided by qualified professionals and should be available off site to ensure the sessions remain confidential. In addition, those counselors should be able to make referrals when employees require a specialist or additional long-term care than what is available through the EAP.
Finally, the EAP should be available to employees 24 hours a day and have offices conveniently to where your employees are located.
MARTY HAUSER is the president of SummaCare, Inc., a provider-owned health plan located in Akron, Ohio. SummaCare offers a full line of health plans and ancillary products. Through its extensive network of more than 7,000 providers and more than 50 hospitals, SummaCare offers coverage to more than 115,000 members throughout northern Ohio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.