Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) date back more than 60 years, and yet, in many ways they seem brand-new. A service that was considered just for employees with problems has grown into a valuable tool to deal with a wide range of employees’ problems emotional, drug- or alcohol-related, family, personal or job-based. Each year more employers, both large and small, come to understand that, because EAPs can have an impact on both productivity and the bottom line, they make sense for everyone.
What were known in the 1940s as occupational alcohol programs could now be more accurately described as workplace assistance programs. The workplace as a whole benefits from the improved productivity and better work/life balance that EAPs help foster. EAPs now address the broader question of how to improve workplace health and employee productivity through the delivery of both individual care to the employee and organizational health strategies to the workplace. As EAPs have evolved, acceptance has widened due to their effectiveness in improving workplace health and productivity. In a recent study, 18.5 percent of employees surveyed were found to be highly stressed and had medical claims that were 43.6 percent higher than claims from employees without stress. EAPs focus on programs that help employees deal with factors that contribute to workplace stress-work expectations, personal and family problems, and poor management. EAPs impact both direct and indirect costs in several ways.
- Finding balance. EAPs help employees find solutions to everyday family challenges such as child-care and elder-care issues, educational programs and services, and even what to do with the kids during the summer. EAP work/life-balance programs mean that employees won’t be spending their daytime hours on the phone calling nursing homes, daycare centers and summer camps.
- Health promotion and wellness. EAPs can help evaluate health promotion needs in the workplace and can customize services to meet the needs of the largest and smallest organizations.
- Managing depression. Depression has been estimated to cost American companies more than $50 billion annually. EAPs provide specialized education, support and clinical services that can remedy depression and help employees stay focused on their jobs.
- Disability management. Nine percent of all disability claims and 13 percent of all health-care costs are for mental health or co-morbid mental health conditions. An EAP working with an employer’s disability management organization can assist in clarifying the role of behavioral health in a disability claim and can also provide direct support for an employee who is coping with being disabled.
- Management consultation. Up to 50 percent of EAP services involve consultations with managers regarding employee behavior. Most managers find it easier and more confidential to call the EAP than the human resources department regarding worker issues. The EAP provides an easily accessible professional resource for managers.
- Results. According to Drug Benefit Trends, employers report that, after EAP care, there is a 20 percent decrease in lost productivity, a 16 percent decrease in absenteeism and a 10 percent drop in tardiness. Eighty-five percent of employees report feeling better after seeking EAP care, while 84 percent note an improvement in their emotional well-being.
Today’s emphasis on employees as human capital demands that companies recognize the complex nature of the workplace and how important it is to develop an environment that supports health and wellness. Companies often look outside to find new ideas on managing costs and improving the workplace, when what they need to do is to demand more from the partners they already have, such as their EAPs. These programs are a hidden jewel within the organization that can provide many services to improve employee health and workplace productivity.
Richard S. Citrin, Ph.D., MBA, is vice president of UPMC Health Plan for EAP Solutions. The Health Plan, with over 435,000 members, is part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s integrated medical delivery system and is the only provider-led health plan in Western Pennsylvania. EAP Solutions serves over 200,000 members in Western Pennsylvania and across the country. Reach Citrin at (412) 647-9471.