Assisting employees Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

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 accidents.

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 ron.smuch@jrgadvisors.net.