Sound advice Featured

5:49pm EDT October 20, 2004
As benefits costs continue to escalate, companies are faced with difficult trade-offs when they seek to provide quality employee programs. In their search for solutions, many have discovered and adopted the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). It's popular and inexpensive, and can deliver as much as a 1,000 percent return on investment.

Yes, you read that ROI correctly. Depending upon which government or private study you read, a $1 investment in EAP services can yield between $4 and $10 (and in some cases more) in increased productivity. This beneficial result derives from reduced medical costs, turnover, sick time, accidents, grievances and substance abuse. The employer also sends a clear message that the company cares about the employee - not just the work the employee does.

An EAP is ideal for helping employees grapple with short-term stress or anxiety, marital discord, substance abuse or other issues likely to affect home life or workplace performance. While the EAP can address a multitude of issues, the focus is on work, family and wellness. For an EAP to be most effective, employees should use the program to help manage work and life issues before they become unmanageable.

Ready to hunt for an EAP of your own? Here are some considerations to keep in mind.


* Flexibility and marketing. No two companies are the same, so select an EAP provider that offers an approach suited to the unique culture of your organization. Employees must understand how the program works and be comfortable that their confidentiality will be maintained.

A good EAP will have proven promotional and educational approaches that can be tailored to your work force to ensure that your employees understand the ins and outs of their EAP benefit.


* Soup-to-nuts services. Pick a provider that can offer you the full suite of EAP services and so-called work/life services, such as counseling sessions, management consultation, critical incident support and child and elder care referrals. You may even look for counseling for legal and financial problems, which also invisibly sap productivity from your organization.


* First-rate providers. An EAP network is only as good as the people in it. Look for an EAP provider that has both a track record of providing excellent service as well as a high degree of professional accomplishment among its staff.

For example, some EAP networks contract strictly with practitioners who have a master's degree or Ph.D. A quality network also may feature providers who have achieved Certified Employee Assistance Program (CEAP) status.


* Always-open support. Problems and family emergencies don't stick to a schedule. Make sure your EAP offers 24/7 telephone access and referrals, as well as Web-based information and resources.


* Data-fueled innovation. Employees reach out to an EAP for a broad variety of reasons, and your provider should be able to capture and analyze nonpersonally identifiable data to detect patterns that can help you refine your overall benefits programs. For example, if aggregate data show that many employees are struggling with caring for elderly parents, you may decide to sponsor lunchtime workshops on this topic. Without data, such opportunities could be missed.


There are many quality EAP service providers available, so you should consult with an insurance broker to select one that can deliver the programs and results you want. If you choose well, you will find - as many companies already have -- that your EAP program is a powerful ally in promoting the "complete health" of your employees.

They'll thank you for it.

PAUL MARTINO is vice president of sales and service, covering Illinois and Wisconsin. He is responsible for managing sales and client management for Aetna's middle market segment, which includes businesses with 51 to 3,000 employee lives. Reach him at (312) 928-3754 or