Benefits of an Employee Assistance Program
Stress both in and out of the workplace is a fact of life for many employees. Add to that the personal, professional, and financial anxieties brought on by the current COVID-19 pandemic, and individuals could be struggling now more than ever. Business owners may have the very same concerns at this time, but there are things you can do to help alleviate some of the burdens your employees are facing. In the long run, providing such a resource during a difficult time can go a long way in demonstrating how much you value your workforce.
An employee assistance program, or EAP, is one example of how you can help employees resolve a variety of issues that contribute to stress, which in turn, may be adversely affecting their work performance and morale. This is important at any time, but particularly crucial during challenging situations such as a major work disruption or public health emergency. EAPs may help improve engagement and productivity, increase morale, improve employee health, and even reduce absenteeism and turnover. Here's a closer look at why you should consider an EAP as part of your benefits lineup.
What is an EAP?
An EAP provides a confidential source that employees can use to find support and resources for certain challenges they face. The service is usually provided as part of a larger benefits package and connects employees to assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. Depending on the situation, employees can access certain services from the safety and privacy of their own home.
What is included in an EAP?
Many people tend to believe that an EAP is an intervention program. While the details of an individual program are identified in the plan documents, many EAPs provide critical support for serious issues. Some of the issues and services often included in an EAP are (but aren't limited to):
- Mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, grief, crisis intervention, and behavioral health issues such as addiction or eating disorders are some examples.
- Health and caregiving. In addition to managing their own health (e.g. establishing a fitness plan, getting nutrition guidance, or coping with a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension), employees may be faced with the additional challenge of being the caregiver for a loved one. An employee can get help locating eldercare or daycare services, nursing homes, or even tracking down an in-plan physician for a child going to school out-of-state.
- Family services. All families can benefit from support in one way or another. Help is available with EAP marriage counseling services, family planning, child safety, physical or emotional abuse, and mediation.
- Counseling. One of the overarching benefits of an employee assistance program is having readily available, confidential support from qualified professionals for personal, family, and work-related issues. Counseling services can include assessments, remote short-term support, or referrals.
- Substance abuse. Chemical dependency, addiction, alcoholism, gambling, and crisis intervention are a few examples where support from a qualified professional through the EAP can make a positive and potentially life-saving impact in an employee's life.
- Financial services. EAP services can connect employees with help to improve financial wellness – budgeting advice, achieving healthy spending habits, loan consolidation, debt repayment, setting up an emergency fund, and more.
- Work issues. Navigating a career change, establishing a plan for professional development, managing workplace stress and responsibilities, making travel plans, or managing relationships with coworkers are all examples of how an EAP can help employees with work-related issues and help prevent or overcome burnout.
How does an employee assistance program work?
The specific offerings of an EAP vary depending on the plan documents of that specific EAP. However, an EAP typically covers your employees and could also cover eligible household members, including spouse, domestic partner, children, and dependents. EAPs often maintain a network of partners that can help meet a range of needs, such as legal firms, childcare professionals, elder care specialists, nutritionists, fitness experts, and more. With an EAP, your employees and their household members have access to a confidential resource they can call when crises or general life management questions arise.
The range of services may vary from on-call counselors and referrals to local resources that can help them solve their challenges. Members can also access a virtual library of free resources and online self-help tools. Access to care counselors is available 24/7, and all communications are personal and confidential.
An EAP is not health insurance. However, a combination of a health insurance plan and an EAP could be useful to your organization and appreciated by employees.
Benefits of an EAP
When life's challenges outpace your employees' ability to cope, it can negatively impact both their performance and productivity. Having adequate support can help employees manage stress and solve problems, which may reduce the negative impact on the company's bottom line and overall morale.
In a 2019 Paychex survey of more than 1,000 employees, 70.5% of respondents described their workload as excessive and stressful. The reality is that many people experience stress in and out of the workplace. For example, employees nationwide are currently dealing with stress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, whether they are working at home and contending with work/life balance, are dealing with health issues, need to take care of kids, or are working long hours as part of an essential business. Your staff can leverage an employee assistance program to help them find ways to keep their stress levels under control, even during these challenging times.
Absenteeism and stress are closely related. In the same Paychex survey, 69.3% of employees reported difficulty getting out of bed to go to work when their stress workload is high. When you layer this on top of the numerous issues that may already be keeping employees from work – being caregivers for children and parents, or getting sick themselves – absenteeism can become a serious issue. An EAP can help an employee find the resources that can help save them time and mitigate unhealthy stress levels. Having these tools on hand can have positive impacts, such as improved time management and more energy throughout the workday.
Reduced accidents and fewer workers' comp claims
When employees have readily available access to resources that improve their health, manage their problems, and reduce stress, their overall wellness can improve. Stress management can help employees be more productive, as well as work smarter and safer, especially those who are involved in various forms of physical labor. Investing in an EAP may likely reduce accidents and ultimately lower your workers' compensation claims.
Greater employee retention
Employees who are engaged and satisfied with their work tend to stick around longer. Not only can access to an EAP empower employees to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives but offering an EAP as a benefit demonstrates that you care about their overall well-being, which can increase feelings of loyalty to your organization.
For many employers, providing health care coverage is one of the more costly components of a benefits package. A health care assistance service like an EAP can help manage that cost over the long-term by helping provide the advice, support, and resources employees need to be physically and mentally healthier, thus lowering their health care claims. Additionally, an EAP can help employees be more efficient in managing their health care expenses.
Feeling stressed or overworked, an inability to achieve sufficient work/life balance, and not having access to resources are some of the reasons why employees choose to leave a job. An EAP, with its network of resources, functions to help employees better manage feelings and situations. When you consider the true cost of losing an employee (impact on morale, productivity loss, cost of recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a new person), investing in an EAP to help with retention begins to make a lot of sense.
Benefits of an employee assistance program for employers
There are additional benefits of an employee assistance program for employers. In certain cases, EAP programs can directly help a company resolve ongoing issues. Each program's offerings are different, but certain programs will provide consultations to managers or executives on how to handle difficult situations within the workplace. For example, an EAP can be used as a resource during employer/employee interactions. If a worker is experiencing performance issues or discloses personal problems to an employer, a referral to an EAP resource may be appropriate. However, it's important to evaluate this from a policy standpoint and obtain expert HR or legal advice to ensure the strategy you're considering complies with relevant state and federal regulations.
An EAP can also help a business meet employees' needs while staying within its budget. Many employees and potential job candidates want health care benefits, and an EAP is one way a smaller organization can remain competitive for top talent and retain valued staff once hired. It may be a good time to audit your employee benefits package to determine whether an EAP would benefit your organization.
Challenging situations, from stress on the job to navigating an unexpected event such as a public health emergency, can take a toll on individuals. Investing in an EAP can help your staff get the support they need to get through a variety of difficulties. Consider adding this as part of your larger benefits package, and it could help attract top talent as well as keep your workforce engaged and productive.