We talk about “work/life” balance, but in practice, there’s often not much of a line between the two. A problem in life can easily become a problem at work (or vice versa). That’s why so many companies now offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which give workers access to help, broadly defined: mental health help, financial planning help, you name it. There are also EAPs that offer assistance with childcare and elder care. Here’s everything you need to know about EAPs.
What Is an Employee Assistance Program?
EAPs are essentially a benefit, offering various kinds of free, confidential help for whatever kind of problem an employee may be experiencing. This often comes in the form of a phone helpline, assessments and counselling. Employees may then receive referrals and follow-up meetings. EAPs can also offer counselling by video, email or online chatting.
Generally, an employee would choose to use the services of an EAP, but it could also be recommended by a colleague or—in disciplinary situations—mandated by an employer. Employers should note that when EAPs offer employees direct counseling and treatment (rather than just supplying referrals) these are treated as a medical benefit and so are covered by ERISA and COBRA legislation.
Types of Employee Assistance Programs
EAPs are offered for a wide variety of issues, for employees and even for their immediate family.
Personal Problems & Mental Health
Employee Assistance Programs began as response to employees suffering from alcohol and substance abuse problems, and these issues are still dealt with today. EAPs now also deal with depression, stress, PTSD and other conditions affecting employee’s mental health. But problems don’t have to be medical in nature—help is available for employees who have financial or legal issues.
EAPs are often useful when an employee suffers a traumatic event like an accident, bereavement or the diagnosis of an illness—in these times, it’s important they know there’s someone who they can speak to.
Employee Assistance Programs aren’t just intended for crises, though. EAPs can provide expert advice on any number of issues like childcare, elder care or simply how to have better relationships.
Adopting a child is often a long a stressful process, and EAPs focused on adoption assistance can be a powerful differentiator for employee retention. Similarly, companies can increase their ability to recruit and retain veterans by offering them assistance on integrating back into the workplace after deployment.
EAPs also increasingly focus on wellness—programs are available related to stopping smoking, preventing stress and fighting obesity.
Most people think of EAPs in terms of personal challenges or life situations as we’ve described above, but they can be used for workplace challenges as well. Employees may require counselling after an incident of workplace violence, because of burnout or due to toxic relationships with colleagues.
The Advantages of Employee Assistance Programs
EAPs give workers free, confidential help that they may not find anywhere else. The confidential part of EAPs can be particularly attractive. After all, who wants to advertise their personal problems at work? It’s much easier and safer to reach out to a 24/7 helpline and work through personal problems in private.
EAPs are a win/win. Employees who feel taken care of, who feel they have the resources they need to tackle problems and who appreciate the fact that their organization has their best interests at heart, are going to be more engaged and they’re more likely to stick around longer and say good things about their company.
Though enacting EAPs requires some investment, there are financial benefits too. If assistance programs do their job, you’ll see lower medical costs over the long term and absenteeism will drop. Ultimately, your workforce will be healthier, happier and more productive.
If a Tree Falls in the Forest…
Does anyone hear it? No, they don’t. SHRM found the same is true for EAPs: typical utilization averages fall below 10%, and the number one driver of low usage is lack of awareness. If your company invests in EAPs, talk to your benefits broker about how to promote them. And keep in mind, different generations prefer wildly different communication channels.
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