M How to get the most out of an Employee benefits

Employee benefits
How to get the most out of an
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
by Terri James, CFG Insurance Services
ost employers rely on their Employee Assistance
Programs to defuse individuals and situations, yet
few organizations do more than put an EAP in place
and list it among the employee benefits. When you consider
how expensive a benefit an EAP can be, it is surprising how
little effort some employers make to ensure they are getting
their money’s worth.
In order to leverage your EAP to its potential, questions you
should ask include:
• How much is the plan being used?
• Are supervisors using it?
• Have counselors successfully handled stress and
management issues well?
Page 16
How does an EAP work?
EAPs provide counseling that employees can either access
on their own or be referred to. The counseling is designed to
help the employee cope with a wide range of individual and
family problems, including emotional illness and marital and
parent-child difficulties. EAPs also offer other services such
as legal consultations.
Typically, employees will telephone the EAP on their own
and may be offered a phone or even a face-to-face
appointment. At that session, the problem may be resolved or
the employee may be referred for more specialized help, such
as to a mental health therapist or an attorney for example.
Employees may also be given the names of resources they
Update • July—August 2003
Employee benefits
can contact on their own, such as home helpers for aging
The Medica Optum® program, for example, handles
concerns ranging from personal and work issues to financial
difficulties, family problems, and legal questions. Members
can reach Medica counselors by calling toll-free at any time,
without needing to make an appointment or leave home or
work. Specifically, the Medica Optum plan will help
employees with:
• Marriage or relationship problems.
• Emotional distress.
• Parenting challenges.
• Stress management.
• Grief and loss.
• Conflict resolution.
• Financial worries.
• Personal legal issues.
With an EAP, you can also furnish ancillary services.
Among them might be on-site visits, supervisory training,
“wellness” programs for employees, and crisis intervention to
deal with the aftershocks of traumatic incidents.
Encouraging employees
to participate
One way to combat low-use rates is to offer on-site
counselors. Although not many organizations offer such
services, those that do see a much higher EAP participation
rate. Studies show that utilization goes up by about 60 percent
when the EAP counselors are located on company premises.
It may seem counter-intuitive that people would go for
counseling at their workplace, but accessibility and visibility
get people in the door.
The EAP should be presented as more than counseling for
the depressed and those with substance-abuse problems. This
can be done by adding a phrase such as “to include other
services” to your EAP contract and encouraging employees to
use the EAP for interpersonal and stress-related issues,
including work-related problems.
You can also set up a database to track (anonymously) the
types of problems encountered by EAP counselors. If there is
an inordinate amount of problems coming from a specific
department or job site, then the organization should
investigate further to see if there is an underlying problem.
A full 91 percent of companies with more than 5,000
employees utilize EAPs, according to a survey in a recent
study by the Society for Human Resource Management. Even
organizations with fewer than 100 employees were just as
likely to contract for an EAP, the survey reported.
The payoff for the employer
If your employees’ personal problems are left unresolved,
they translate into poor work performance. The quality and
quantity of their work deteriorates, while absenteeism and
tardiness increase. The number of workers’ compensation
claims, disability claims, medical insurance claims, and
Update • July—August 2003
An EAP: Just what the doctor ordered
Protect your most valuable resource—employees.
Each of the following conditions could reduce your
organization’s competitiveness. It’s in the best interest
of employers and employees to identify and reduce job
stress. An EAP could be just the thing.
Causes of job stress
• Employees working longer hours and taking fewer
• A downsizing, layoff, or reorganization that creates
uncertainty and increased workloads.
• Employees lacking control over work and career.
• A corporate culture in which the required effort
exceeds rewards employees can earn.
• A poor social environment and lack of support from
managers and coworkers, resulting in workplace
• Conflicting or uncertain job expectations, or too
many responsibilities.
• Unpleasant or risky physical conditions.
Signs of job stress
• Headache
• Sleep disturbances
• Difficulty concentrating
• Short temper
• Upset stomach
• Job dissatisfaction
• Low morale
grievances also increase. Hidden costs include morale
problems within the work unit, damage to public image,
costs related to poor judgment, and time taken when
supervisors must shift from regular duties to handle
Implementation of an EAP can reduce the costs associated
with a troubled employee and ideally reduces turnover.
Studies show that savings range from $1.50 to $15 for every
dollar invested in an EAP, with an average savings of $3 to
$5 per EAP dollar. Studies also have found that an EAP can
reduce sickness benefits by 33 percent, work-related
accidents by 65 percent, and workers’ compensation claims
by 30 percent.
When asked, many owners and managers reply that
people are their greatest asset. Investing in an EAP enables
employees to seek confidential assistance for their personal
issues before the workplace and the employer’s profits are
affected. Workers are then healthier and better able to
perform their jobs at the optimum level that is necessary in
a competitive business environment. For more information
about adding an EAP to your benefits package, contact CFG
at 952-945-0200.
Page 17