Employee productivity is important to any business’ success, and if an employee is too overwhelmed by personal or behavior problems to perform at his or her highest level, the company’s productivity will suffer as a result.

To address those issues, many employers are turning to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). An EAP can help identify issues facing troubled employees and direct employees to resources such as short-term counseling, referrals to specialized professionals or organizations, and follow-up service to help them address those issues, says Ron Carmassi, a sales executive with JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.

“EAPs offer a safe environment where an employee can discuss problems with a counselor who can make a confidential and professional assessment and provide referral to a mental health professional if necessary,” says Carmassi.

Smart Business spoke with Carmassi about EAPs and how they can assist your employees, improving both the lives of your workers and the productivity of your business

What are EAPs designed to accomplish?

First created many years ago in response to businesses’ concerns about the impact of employee alcohol and drug abuse on bottom-line productivity, employee assistance programs are now designed to deal with a much wider and more complex range of issues that are confronting today’s work force. Modern EAPs are designed to help workers with issues including family and/or marriage counseling, stress, depression, financial difficulties, crisis planning, illness, pre-retirement planning and other emotional, personal and wellness needs.

The expansion in the scope of EAP counseling is often attributed to the change in our social fabric. Double wage-earning households, an increase in the number of single parent households, economic crises, changing and more demanding career patterns, and technological advances have created new and different types of stresses, which affect the health and productivity of many employees.

Individuals experiencing a personal or family crisis and who are under chronic stress often have nowhere to turn for advice and assistance other than the EAP that is offered by their employer.

What is the benefit to employers that offer EAPs?

Many employers realize a direct link between employee well being and employee productivity.  The difference in value and productivity between happy and unhappy employees can be profound, as personal and work-related problems can manifest themselves in poor job performance, adversely impacting the company’s overall productivity.

Employers often perceive that the biggest advantage of an EAP is the positive impact it can have on employee productivity, but there are other benefits as well. For example, businesses offering EAPs often see a reduction in absenteeism, an increase in morale, fewer work-related accidents, a reduction in incidents resulting from substance abuse and an overall reduction in medical costs, resulting in a significant savings for the company.

In addition, employers that include an EAP as part of their benefits package are often viewed as more ‘employee-supportive’ than competitors that do not offer this type of program. That, in turn, makes the EAP a tool for both employee attraction and retention, potentially resulting in lower turnover.

Another advantage of the EAP is that it frees up the company and its personnel to focus on operations, rather than devoting work time to issues that are not directly related to productivity, deadlines and other business activities that result in growth and added revenue.

What should an employer consider when choosing an EAP?

The characteristics of EAP programs vary, so it is important to compare programs to understand exactly what you are getting before you sign on. In addition to cost structure, other factors to consider before purchasing an EAP include the qualifications of the staff that will provide counseling.

Staff should be professionally licensed with established relationships with local and/or national health groups and they should also be engaged in continuing education initiatives so that they remain current. Be sure to inquire about the extent of training services because EAP training programs vary in scope and subject matter.

Convenience of services and responsiveness of staff are also important factors to consider, and business owners should seek out EAP providers with facilities in the same geographic region as the company so that employees can visit before, during or after work. The EAP should also include a toll-free telephone line that is operational around the clock

What would you say to employers who say they can’t afford to sponsor yet another benefit?

While employers understand the value of an EAP, many are concerned about the cost of implementing and maintaining this type of program, particularly with increasing costs for other insurance and employee benefit programs. And while it is true that the employer generally bears the cost of the EAP, many employers are surprised to learn they can institute an EAP at a relatively small expense to the company, often with monthly fees ranging from just $2 to $6 per employee.

More often than not, once employers become involved in an EAP, they come to believe that the return on that investment is well worth the cost.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.

Published in Pittsburgh

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have been a part of the business scene long enough to almost be taken for granted. By now, many people are familiar with the fact that an EAP is an employer-paid program that is best known for helping employees deal with personal problems that are capable of adversely impacting their work performance, health and well being.

Not as well known, however, is how EAPs can also be used by employers to enhance an organization’s performance, culture and business success.

“Creating and maintaining a work environment that ensures quality production is a primary goal of every business,” says Susan Stocker, sales executive for LifeSolutions, a UPMC WorkPartners affiliate. “Effective, professional EAPs address employees’ personal and work-related issues that have the capacity to interfere with both quality and production on the job. They provide ongoing support and direction to employees through coaching in the form of short-term counseling and referral services for employees and members of their household.”

Smart Business spoke with Stocker about why EAPs make good business sense for employers and how implementing one can mitigate the risks to your business.

How do EAPs provide value to businesses?

EAPs can provide value in three ways: By leveraging the value of an organization’s work force, by addressing the cost of doing business and by helping an organization mitigate its business risks. Having a committed, engaged and productive work force is an essential component of any successful business, and because an EAP directly addresses issues that impact the work force, it is an invaluable tool for employers.

How can an EAP leverage an organization’s investment in its work force?

An EAP is a powerful employer tool that focuses on employees and on the issues they are facing that impact the workplace, but those issues may or may not be about the workplace. It is a key component of an employer strategy to increase employee engagement and improve productivity, morale and work place harmony. An EAP can help an employee learn to bounce back from life’s personal and work-related challenges, and, as a result be better able to produce at maximum capacity.

EAPs also develop leadership, management and supervisor competencies through coaching and consultation. EAPs train managers how to best handle difficult employee situations, including substance abuse issues, dealing with aging parents, financial concerns and relationship issues. And, when management is operating effectively, engagement and productivity increase in the work force.

How do EAPs address the cost of doing business?

EAPs function as preventive vehicles. They connect employees with the appropriate resources for whatever issues they are facing, allowing for early identification and intervention, care management and recovery programs. The result is often more efficient use of health care, which can reduce costs.

EAPs also have proven experience in lowering the rate of employee turnover and the costs of replacing those who leave. They provide access to services designed to reduce workplace absences and, when an employee does have to take time off to deal with an issue, to facilitate a safe and timely return to work. EAP services proactively work with employees to manage day-to-day challenges, and that limits disruptions in the work place. This is important because even those issues that are not work related can affect an employee’s focus at work, and increase an employee’s need for more time away.

When an employee goes on a leave of absence, an EAP can be engaged early to determine if there are any issues beyond the stated reason for the leave that need to be addressed. The employee and the EAP can work together from the start to achieve resolution, thereby facilitating optimal outcomes and return to work.

How do EAPs mitigate business risks?

By promoting and supporting drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies and programs, EAPs help to make work places safer. Safety risks, such as the likelihood of workplace violence, are reduced through the use of EAPs by leaders, managers and employees as they address the issue. By maintaining business practices that promote a violence-free workplace, EAPs reduce the likelihood of legal action or liability resulting from violence.

And by supporting disaster and emergency preparedness, EAPs help minimize the disruption after such events. The EAP also works with the organization to manage the aftermath of such an occurrence to ensure that the resilience of employees and the company will return.

How can an organization choose an EAP that is right fit for it?

You want to choose an EAP that can optimize its value to your company’s culture and work force to ensure the achievement of your business objectives. In making your choice, you should weigh an EAP’s experience and expertise in your field, the credentials of the EAP’s staff, the EAP’s level of responsiveness and accessibility, its ability to integrate with other key benefit providers and whether it can tailor a plan design to fit your company’s specific needs.

SUSAN STOCKER is a sales executive for LifeSolutions, part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. Reach her at (412) 647-6623 or stockerse@upmc.edu.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Published in Pittsburgh