The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and wellness in the workplace. The United Nations warned against growing mental health problems due to the grief of losing loved ones, isolation, restrictions on movement, fear of the future, among other things.
Poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employee job performance and productivity, physical capability, and the ability to complete daily tasks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Mental illnesses, such as depression, can interfere with a person's ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time. Depression also reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time and also results in higher rates of disability and unemployment, according to the CDC.
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can assist employees with a wide range of personal problems. Let's dive into the definition of EAP and how employers and employees can take advantage of — and offer — EAPs.
What is an employee assistance program?
An employee assistance program (EAP), also called a work-based intervention program, helps employees resolve personal problems, such as relationship problems, substance abuse, financial problems, wellness issues, and traumatic occurrences.
Employees can take advantage of EAP services at no cost. Employees can often choose from a wide range of counseling options, from video-based counseling to face-to-face interactions.
EAPs can offer assistance with the following:
- Work-life balance and other work-related issues
- Workplace risk management
- Relationship issues
- Legal and family problems
- Substance abuse
- Mental health issues, including depression
- Health problems
- Caregiving issues
- Grief and loss
- Financial problems
[ Related read: Why every company should prioritize mental health in the workplace ]
How does an employee assistance program work?
EAPs provide a predetermined number of counseling referral sessions — usually between one to three — at no cost to an employee. The steps to take advantage of an EAP look similar to these below:
Step 1: Call a specific number or visit a website for EAP access
Your workplace often offers a website or phone number you can call to access EAP services. Check with your human resources office for more information.
Step 2: Undergo confidential communication
A consultant can help you determine the ways you can request assistance. You can choose to speak with a counselor once on the line, schedule in-person counseling, or seek additional resources.
Step 3: Get counseling and complete the next steps
You can undergo your limited number of sessions or determined solutions at this point. Most EAPs do not offer long-term counseling but can assist you in finding long-term solutions.
EAP considerations for employers
EAP program providers often need to make a few choices regarding their program offerings, whether they choose to create an internal program (in-house EAP) or an external or third-party service. Take a look at the advice for employers for maintaining an EAP program below.
Advice for employers
Hiring full-time or part-time professional counselors can cost more than opting for an external service provider to manage your EAP program. Which type of access you choose depends on your budget and preferences.
Next, you can create and communicate a policy for your EAP. Address how your employees can access the EAP services and other details, including privacy concerns.
Finally, track the progress of your EAP by checking how many employees actually use the program.
The American Psychiatric Association says one in five adults will struggle with mental illness during their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, due to mental health stigmas and other reasons, EAP utilization averages are typically low. For example, a Washington, D.C.-based National Business Group on Health, for example, found that median utilization of EAPs only occurred at 5.5% in 2018.
Why employers should offer EAPs
In short, it benefits employers, not just employees. In a study of roughly 24,300 employees, absenteeism dropped for workers who used an EAP. Employee engagement grew 8% and life satisfaction jumped 22%.
Not only does employee absenteeism drop and engagement grow, workers' compensation claims, health care costs, accidents, and grievances also drop when employers offer EAPs, according to many sources.
Employes show increased productivity, greater retention and the employer sees lower insurance costs. Managers can also see it as a way to direct their employees to a better resource. Managers themselves may not be equipped to deal with an employer who has depression, for example.
How it fits into your overall benefits package
The cost of an EAP per employer ranges from $12 to $40, which costs far less than health insurance, according to reports by the Employee Assistance Society of North America and the Kaiser Family.
[ Related read: The 20 best employee benefits in 2021 ]
EAP considerations for employees
Employees may not realize that their employer offers an EAP or may feel reluctant to take advantage of an EAP. It may depend a lot on how your employer makes employees aware of the program and whether managers encourage participation. However, it's a good idea to talk to your HR office to learn more about your options.
Employees should take advantage of EAP services for a number of reasons, not limited to the following.
- It's free. If you're struggling to manage a drug or alcohol addiction, financial woes, marital trouble/family concerns, legal issues, stress, or workplace issues, you may want to take advantage of EAP services (a limited number of services) at no cost to you.
- It's confidential. Your employer will not find out about the reasons you chose to seek EAP services, nor about your decision to utilize EAP services, unless a counselor finds out about an immediate safety concern.
- You can find a clinician. An EAP service can help you find a long-term clinician to help you make a long-term plan for managing and resolving those issues. Going through your EAP can help you make sure a long-term clinician is covered under your insurance.
Employees don't just benefit from EAPs — employers do as well. EAPs offer a number of perks, including less absenteeism and higher employee retention.
Ultimately, if you want access to a comprehensive wellness management plan that can help you in all aspects of your life, consider using an EAP.
Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and a full-time freelance writer and editor. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process.
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