How to integrate leave of absence and employee assistance programs

A 2013 study by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) reported that the prevalence of depression among workers is close to 20 percent and that more than 60 percent of these depressed employees go untreated. At the same time, 97 percent of employees who file a leave claim for depression also report other comorbid conditions.

The impact of depression and other conditions may be amplified when employees are on leave caring for family members who need them. At a minimum, there are emotional, financial and lifestyle implications for these employees.

For employers, the IBI study estimated the yearly cost in lost work time and medical treatments at $62,000 per 100 employees. In an internal analysis of its parent company, WorkPartners discovered that employees who took a leave of absence were 5 percent more likely to suffer depression than they were before taking the leave.

Smart Business spoke with Jim Kinville, senior director of LifeSolutions, and Linda Croushore, senior director of Disability Services at UPMC, about how employers can help employees who are fighting depression or other conditions while on leave.

How can employers ensure their employees on leave have the resources they need?

To combat these challenges and their associated costs, you’ll want to consider programs that can engage employees on leaves of absence with an employee assistance program (EAP) to help employees manage the range of life challenges they may be facing.

A pilot program included employees who called in to request a leave to care for a spouse, child and/or parent.

The leave intake specialists processed the leaves as normal and then, near the end of the interaction, transferred the employee to a live phone connection with the EAP provider. Next, the EAP care manager engaged the employee in a conversation, giving the employee information on services that may assist the employee based on the details of the individual situation. Each employee’s original EAP care manager then made a follow-up call 30 days later to review the employee’s needs and provide additional support if appropriate.

What types of services would this integrated approach include?

By speaking with the EAP care manager, employees are able to determine services that will best assist them throughout their leave. The types of services used by those who accept assistance will vary, but with the diverse concerns and issues these employees experience as they go through the leave process, the services most utilized tend to be referrals to the Institute on Aging, general counseling, child care, legal services and financial consultations.

Most individuals using leave need to manage multiple issues. EAP care managers report they helped to address nine or more different areas of need related to health, emotional issues, work-life balance, financial, legal and more. In fact, it is rare that someone only has one specific area of need. Care managers have assisted with linkages to other programs, such as wellness coaching and complex case management.

What are the effects of EAP programs on leave duration?

While the results of programs that consider a number of variables (type of leave, leave circumstances, etc.) are still being studied to fully determine the effect of EAP programs on leave duration, some key results from the pilot program included:

  • All employees who were transferred to the EAP accepted the initial services for a 100 percent engagement rate. An informational flier was sent to all callers who agreed to receive it.
  • Care managers reported there were no complaints about the offer of free services through the EAP.
  • Of the employees who were transferred to the EAP, 12 percent accepted services beyond the initial transfer.
  • Employees who used the extra support experienced leave durations that were, on average, four days shorter than those who did not use the support.

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