Human Resources and Employee Assistance Programs

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To improve employee productivity, employers, through their Human Resources departments, are increasingly sponsoring employee assistance programs (EAPs) which are designed to detect and solve common employee problems including stress, health, alcohol or drug abuse, clinical depression, family, financial, and various other personal matters. EAPs provide access to health care professionals who are contracted to offer short-term counseling and refer employees to the variety of specialized services from organizations or professionals available to them through the plan. Additionally, EAPs train employers, managers, and business owners to identify potential problematic behavioral patterns among their employees. Employees benefit because they have an in-house resource that will help them with their personal and professional concerns and thus can more effectively solve their problems. Employers benefit because the workers that utilize the program experience fewer and shorter-lived problems that might otherwise have interfered with their job performance which ultimately lowers productivity and decreases the bottom line profits. Employees either confidentially request assistance or are referred by their manager if it is suspected that personal issues are causing a decline in their job performance. These programs are highly beneficial to employees and employers alike when properly implemented and should be adopted by all organizations at some level of service.

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Employee Assistance Programs can be categorized into five types which can be referred to as full service, peer-assisted, integrated, compliance, and wrap-around versions. A Full-Service EAP, as the term implies, provides a wide array of programs that are internally staffed, well-financed, and entails a management support system. It likely provides on-site counseling services and takes a proactive role in managing critical employment issues such as debriefing the staff following unforeseen incidents and preparing the staff both economically and psychologically before changes in their job status which could include coping with planned layoffs due to corporate downsizing (Oss, 1998). Full-service EAPs constantly review the employee’s needs at a particular company and develop services to meet the demands. As a result, many programs include disability, financial, legal, and sexually transmitted disease counseling in addition to child and elderly parent care assistance for employees. The program is managed by an outside firm such as Value Behavioral Health or Ceridian which performs these services and offers many types of employee assistance packages, reducing employee concerns regarding company repercussions.

Peer-assisted EAPs often are implemented for employees that do not have access to a formal EAP service. This is generally because the company is too small to justify the expense, the employee’s physical location within the company is dispersed over long distances, or if the employees are working on a contract basis. Professional organizations such as labor unions offer peer-assisted EAPs to their membership. The AFL-CIO, as an example, has conducted qualified counseling services for more than 60 years (Steele, 1998). Peer-assisted EAPs could also be utilized if the employees are dissatisfied with their current EAP provider which could include privacy concerns, lack of certain services, or restrictions on services (Bamburger, 1995).

The Integrated EAP combines an in-house program with the services from an external EAP vendor. This type of program is commonly implemented by large labor unions or self-insured corporations. This method combines the evaluation process, actual services, and employee benefits responsibilities together under one umbrella management group. This has proven to reduce conflicts and misunderstandings because these services, which remain separate in most companies, unify all aspects of an employee’s concerns regarding an EAP program. Integrating the programs reduces administrative costs and improves efficiency which lessens employer expenses. AT&T has utilized an integrated EAP for the past decade (Herpel, 1997).

A Compliance EAP is designed to be a cost-effective way for employers to comply with government regulations generally regarding substance abuse in the workplace or the perception that systematic drug testing is needed in a particular job description at that company. The employer usually implements a Compliance EAP as a cost-savings measure with the focus being on counseling for known abusers, medical evaluation services, and a testing program (Potter 1995).

Small employers use what is termed a Wrap-Around EAP to allow employees and their families access to clinical psychologists or other health care professionals at a preset price. This was developed by small employers as a reaction to limitations placed on services by managed care organizations (MCOs). “MCOs are increasingly restricting provider panels and networks, thereby imposing significant restrictions on the EAP-client relationship … (and) insurance companies continue to dictate treatment protocol under the banner of cost efficiency” (Steele 1998). This results in loss of access to many health care options by employees of smaller firms. Large businesses are better positioned to counteract restrictions placed on their benefits package by the MCO but have the financial and organizational resources to construct personalized benefit programs. Because small companies lack these resources, they negotiate a fixed-price benefit program with an EAP.

The five EAP models described are the most common forms of programs, but many variations exist. An EAP virtually always provides employees with confidential access to a referral service or counselor when a need arises. Most offer to arrange an appointment with a substance abuse treatment center, mental health care professional, financial advisor, etc., and distributes numerous types of educational material designed to address various types of employee need. Easy-to-access information on a broad array of topics and someone to listen and offer guidance are the key features of Employee Assistance Programs” (Steele, 1998). EAPs help the individual and the organization by diagnosing, counseling, and/or referring these employees to the appropriate help before it becomes a problem in the workplace. A business that provides its employees easy and open access to free educational material and a referral service reduce the possibility that mental health conditions will go unchecked which results in a decrease in production and an increase in the number of medical claims, a costly proposition for the employer.

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Statistics provide indisputable evidence that employees who experience ongoing personal and medical problems negatively impact an employer’s profit margin. At any given time, it is estimated that at least 10 percent of all employees are experiencing some type of severe personal problem (Health Partners 2007). It is this small fraction that accounts for up to 90 percent of the total number of absences in the workplace. More than five percent of the corporation’s payroll expenses are related to absenteeism. Personally distressed employees have been shown to perform at a level 35 percent below the average employee (Health Partners 2007). This group is a company’s biggest liability when they could be an asset with proper, confidential, and free guidance. Approximately three-fourths of terminations are due to any employee’s problems. The costs associated with the termination, hiring, and training of replacement employees are vast. “Surveys show that the full costs of employee absence are more than four times total medical payments when the productivity lost from absence is added to wage replacement payments. Employers lose an estimated $52 billion each year from depression-related absenteeism and reduced productivity” (Health Partners 2007).

Neither employers nor employees are qualified to resolve problematic personal issues but both parties take it personally and tend to blame themselves when an employee’s job performance falls due to personal issues. This causes discouragement among employers, managers, and employees. Many experiences negatively affect an employee’s state of mind such as accidents or injuries, natural disasters, layoffs, uncomfortable workplace situations, etc., which lowers productivity costing employers many thousand dollars. All this is simply because they do not have access to EAPs that could have dealt with the problem early on thus preventing or at least mitigating negative outcomes. With an adequate work environment that focuses on high standards, open communication, and quick conflict resolution, employees become happier and more willing to take ownership of the success of the company as a whole. This engagement of the employees further leads to much more effective customer service, especially when coupled with employees who have adequate authority to deal with concerns at the lower levels, which leads to much-improved customer satisfaction. Productivity is also increased when employees are satisfied as absentee rates decrease and employee turnover is reduced. When happy customers are created, they are more likely to become repeat customers and will help the company through word-of-mouth advertising.

“Companies have come to realize that a direct link can often be detected between employee well-being and employee productivity and that the difference in value between happy and unhappy employees can often be quite profound” (Hillstrom & Hillstrom 2002). In addition, happy employees encourage other talented, motivated workers who wish to work in such a positive environment to apply to open positions within the company, increasing the company’s competitive edge in a variety of fields at once (Employee Development and Training 2003).

EAPs are becoming an ever-increasing larger element of the employee’s benefits packages which are used by both large and small businesses to attract better-qualified candidates. Over the past two decades or so, EAPs have expanded both in number and capacity to serve differing employee needs. Several decades ago, people would seek counseling and advice and counsel from someone they had known and been close to for many years such as their preacher, family doctor, a close friend, or family member. With the more mobile society of today, relationships such as these are progressively becoming more of an exception. It is increasingly rare that individuals stay close with one another for a long enough period to be able to speak about the most personal of issues. Therefore, “individuals experiencing a personal or family crisis, or who are under chronic stress, may have no place to turn for advice other than to the benefits (the EAP) offered through their workplace” (Osterweil 1991). Employee assistance programs were first conceived as a response to the immense impact that employee substance abuse had on the company’s profit line. However, EAPs are providing an ever-widening array of services that help employees stay physically and mentally healthy and thus more productive at work and more content with their private and professional lives. EAPs are a win-win situation. The employer adds to the bottom-line and the employees are happier and display more loyalty. Employees benefit by having the opportunity to receive several forms of professional assistance to help alleviate a wide array of life problems and the company’s benefit by attracting repeat customers and loyal, hardworking, motivated employees.

Works Cited

Bamberger, P. and Sonnenstuhl, W.J. “Peer Referral Networks and Utilization of a Union-Based EAP.” Journal of Drug Issues. Vol. 25, N. 2, (1995), pp. 291-312.

Employee Development and Training. Guide to Managing Human Resources. Channel 11. (2003). Web.

Health Partners. “HealthPartners Employee Assistance Program.” (2007). Web.

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Herpel, E.P. “Improving the Quality of Internal EAP Managed Behavioral Care.” EAPA Exchange. Vol. 27, N. 5, (1997), pp. 16-17.

Hillstrom, Kevin & Hillstrom, Laurie Collier. “Employee Assistance Programs.” Encyclopedia of Small Business. New York: Thomson Gale, (2002).

Oss, ME & Clary, J. “EAPs are Evolving to Meet Changing Employer Needs.” Open Minds. (1998).

Osterweil, Jody. “Evaluating and Revising EAPs.” Pension World. (1991).

Potter, F.J.; Boyle, K.E.; Steele, P.D.; and Rush. M.W. “Reasons and Settings for Employee Assistance Programs.” Unpublished paper, presented at the American Public Health Association annual meetings, (1995).

Steele, Paul Ph.D. “Employee Assistance Programs: Then, Now, and in the Future.” Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, (1998).

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