Assisting employees

In the wake of a struggling economy,
employers are seeking strategies to
combat the rising cost of health care and other benefits.

Many companies are participating in
wellness programs to promote healthy
lifestyle changes in an effort to positively impact the physical health and performance of their work force.

Equally important to consider is
employees’ mental and emotional health
and their potential to adversely affect
physical health and productivity within
the workplace.

In today’s fast-paced society, it is
common for employees to experience
stress and anxiety in their daily lives,
both work-related and personal. If
ignored, persistent or chronic stress can
lead to health problems or drug and
alcohol dependency, resulting in health
care cost increases, lost wages, decreased productivity and work-related

According to the Collaborative Family
Healthcare Coalition, up to one-half of
all visits to primary care physicians are
due to conditions that are caused or
exacerbated by mental or emotional
problems. In addition, the National
Institute of Mental Health has reported
that more than 20 percent of the work
force has a diagnosable psychological
disorder or substance abuse problem.

“The business community is increasingly recognizing that employee behavioral health issues can have a negative
effect on job performance, the work
environment, employer profitability and
exposure to stress-related claims,” says
Ron Smuch, the information support
specialist for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice.
“For this reason, the number of companies offering employee assistance programs (EAPs) as an added benefit is on
the rise.”

Smart Business spoke to Smuch
about EAPs, what they are and how
your company can implement them.

What is an EAP?

EAPs offer a broad range of services to
assist employees in managing personal
issues that may be negatively affecting
their job performance, health or general
well-being. The services offered to an
employee through an EAP consist of
assessment, professional counseling
and referral services for diagnosis or ongoing treatment.

The EAP is typically contracted with a
vendor by the employer and provides
support and counseling to employees for
a variety of issues, including drug and
alcohol abuse, financial concerns, legal
issues, mental health and significant life
events, such as births and accidents.

EAPs are typically prepaid by the employer and are free to the employee as
well as the employee’s family household
members. EAP services are confidential
within the scope of privacy laws and ethical standards governing confidentiality.

In addition to providing assistance to employees, many EAPs offer preventive
educational training to the employer
and supervisors to facilitate supportive
management techniques in dealing with
distressed employees, the work environment and employee job performance.

How does the employee access the EAP?

Employees are able to access most
EAPs by telephone or in person. An
external EAP can provide service
through a toll-free phone number typically accessible 24 hours a day, seven
days a week. Utilizing an external EAP
benefits employees by offering confidential services outside of the work-place and away from co-workers and
management personnel. This alone may
make the employee more receptive or
willing to utilize the EAP and seek help
on his or her own initiative.

What are the benefits of an EAP?

If instituted and utilized properly,
EAPs can be beneficial to both the
employer and the employee. EAPs can
help employees resolve personal problems and achieve work-life balance,
thus improving the overall quality of life.
The employee can then maximize job
performance through increased productivity, morale and a reduction in absenteeism or tardiness.

EAPs can result in cost savings for
employers by reducing health care costs
through decreased utilization of medical
benefits, accidents and workers’ compensation claims. For every dollar
invested in an EAP, employers generally
achieve a return from $5 to $16.

In addition, the EAP can be a valuable
tool for employers to recruit and retain
highly qualified, competent employees
while reducing costs associated with
high turnover.

RON SMUCH is the information support specialist for JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. Reach him at
(412) 456-7017 or [email protected].