There are certain things in life you can’t avoid.
Like paying your taxes or getting vaccinations at the doctor. It’s also nearly impossible to avoid stress outside of work. Life happens, and sometimes employees bring that stress with them into the workplace.
When this stress becomes too much to bear, an employee assistance program can go a long way in making whatever an employee is struggling with outside – or even inside – the office become more manageable.
What is an employee assistance program?
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a program put forth by an organization for their employees that provides a network of services to help employees navigate life changes, stress, personal problems, and other issues affecting their productivity or job performance.
It’s common for HR professionals within an organization to utilize absence management software when creating an EAP to know when employees are taking time off work to focus on their well-being, how much time off is used, and if the internal policies are being followed. Some tools can also handle special circumstances around absences, like long-term leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The employer typically sponsored these programs, voluntary, confidential, and free for anyone to partake in. You can usually find details of this program within an organization's compensation and benefits package.
What is included in an employee assistance program?
Depending on the size of an organization and the resources they have available to dedicate to an EAP, the program can include a long list of available support.
- Mental health issues: An EAP would assist employees as they deal with depression, crisis intervention anxiety, stress management to avoid job burnout, grief counseling, and behavioral health issues like eating disorders. An employee assistance program can include other emotional problems, like sleeping difficulties and losing a loved one.
- Health and caregiving issues: Besides taking care of their own well-being with fitness plans, nutrition guidance, and managing diseases like diabetes and heart disease, an EAP can also stretch to employees who are a caregiver or taking care of a family member. This would include helping an employee find daycare services, nursing homes, at-home child care, or eldercare.
- Family services: An EAP that includes family services provide employees with marriage counseling sessions, family planning, child safety measures, and legal issues about emotional or physical abuse.
- Counseling: In addition to marriage counseling, EAPs can offer confidential support to employees for personal or work-related matters through long and short-term counseling services.
- Financial services: Employees who need assistance regarding budgeting advice, debt repayment, establishing an emergency fund, or a strategy to achieve healthy spending habits can find it in an EAP.
- Substance abuse support: If an employee suffers from addiction, chemical dependencies, or gambling, they can seek help within an employee assistance program.
- Work-related issues: When an employee faces a problem at work, like managing a relationship with a coworker or making a career change, EAP services can point them in the right direction and offer solutions.
How employee assistance programs work
Regardless of how big or small the issue is, an employee may seek the help of an EAP when they’re under a great deal of emotional stress from either professional, familial, or marital turmoil. As stated, these programs are usually subsidized and funded by employers.
The cost of EAPs are typically based around:
- Usage: Employers pay based on the services used
- Fixed fee: A per-employee cost per month, or per year
When an employee needs one of the services offered in the program, they can contact a clinician online or via phone as often as they want, at no cost, at any hour of the day.
Organizations that have experienced something like a tragedy connected to the workplace can also choose to have specialized EAP counselors come onsite to speak with employees face-to-face.
It’s essential to keep in mind that an EAP is not an actual health insurance plan or a way to provide financial support to employees. An EAP can generally not diagnose a health issue or replace actual medical treatment or a psychological evaluation.
Remember: An employee assistance program should be used to support,– not replace – a comprehensive employer-sponsored health insurance and health care plan.
What is the cost of an employee assistance program?
For employees, an EAP is generally offered at no cost, up to certain plan limits. According to The Employee Assistance Trade Association, even though it’s not free for employers to offer, the return on investment (ROI) is typically $3.00 or more in return for each $1.00 invested in the EAP.
The costs for employers are typically worth it as they’re offset by gains in productivity, efficiency, and the potential employer healthcare savings that come with more serious medical treatments covered by insurance.
The bottom line for employers is that the cost will depend on what you choose to offer employees within EAP, as a larger program will cost more, and providing it to a large number of employees will have a cost, too. On average, the cost per employee can range from $12 to $40.
Benefits of an employee assistance program
As an employer, there are many benefits that an employee assistance program can offer staff and advantages to the company as a whole.
Improved stress management
Your employees have a lot on their plate, and there’s a good chance a lot of their stressors are causing them to be less productive at work. Having the right tools at their disposal to better manage their stress levels can provide them with a better work/life balance. Plus, they’ll feel supported when dealing with health concerns, taking care of family members, or needing financial counseling.
Plus, less stress outside of the workplace can help employees feel more well-rested, more productive, and more efficient when they are at work.
Decreased presenteeism and absenteeism
Offering employees an EAP that puts their needs first can decrease presenteeism and absenteeism.
Presenteeism is when employees are at work but are experiencing a lack of productivity because of a physical, mental, or emotional issue that is causing them to be distracted and have their wellness suffer when working. Absenteeism is similar, except the employee chooses to stay home from work or call off from their job instead of coming in.
Both can be detrimental to the success of an organization, but when employees feel supported from an EAP, it can decrease both of these instances from occurring, as it provides the resources staff needs to mitigate their stress and boost employee health.
Greater employee retention
Employees who don’t feel engaged or satisfied at work, with an unhealthy work/life balance, tend to do one thing: leave their job.
Suppose a company offers their team access to an EAP that empowers them to lead healthier lives while providing them the tools they need to make positive changes. In that case, it demonstrates that they care about their employees and their long-term well-being and happiness. This will promote employee loyalty to stay employed with the company longer.
Fewer workers’ comp claims
Depending on the industry, the human resources department could spend a ton of time dealing with accidents and workers’ compensation claims. When employees can better manage stress through an EAP, they’re not only happier and more productive, they also work smarter and safer, too, especially when it comes to jobs that require physical or manual labor.
Investing in an employee assistance program could lower the likelihood of accidents and workers’ comp claims.
Better recruitment strategies
If your organization offers an employee assistance program, letting candidates know the details can be part of the recruitment marketing strategy. If a candidate is between working for a company that offers a comprehensive EAP to employees and another organization that doesn’t provide that employee benefit, the EAP could be what tips the candidate to choose your business.
Fewer disputes between employees
Bullying, office arguments, and even workplace violence can turn even the happiest of work environments into a toxic place to be. Employees who utilize what an EAP offers can seek assistance or support regarding any work-related issues are less likely to engage in a dispute with a coworker or team member.
Requirements of an employee assistance program
The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) sets guidelines for employee assistance programs, stating that they must have written policies that specify client confidentiality, that there needs to be an adequate number of trained employee assistance professionals on hand, and that formal procedures are in place for following up with or monitoring employees who are using the EAP.
The written policy should specify the EAP’s relationship to the organization and define the scope and limitations of the services provided. The policy’s goal is to provide employees with precise details of the EAP’s function and make sure everyone understands the EAP and how it should be used within an organization.
Other standards from the EAPA include:
- The ability to add services based on changing needs.
- Crisis intervention services available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- When to provide short-term services and when to refer an employee to a professional.
- Training for employer organization's leaders so they can recognize issues and intervene to recommend the EAP.
How to administer an employee assistance program
As an employer interested in offering an EAP, remember that you’re responsible for complying with certain privacy laws. If there comes a time when an HR professional mandates an employee seek assistance using the EAP, rules must be adhered to.
When conducting a mandatory EAP referral, it’s in an employer’s best interest to seek outside counsel that verifies they’re following appropriate steps. This is because, depending on what the EAP offers, it may be considered a group health plan, which would make them subject to COBRA and other federal laws that apply to group health plans.
If your company provides referrals, as opposed to direct medically related support, you will not be subject to COBRA or guidelines within the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This changes when offering medically related support, like mental health counseling or treatment for substance use or alcohol abuse.
When an EAP is in place, there are three types of referrals:
- Self-referral: Employees, or family members, contact the EAP directly.
- Informal: A friend or fellow employee suggests the EAP to the employee and recommends using its services.
- Formal: A manager, HR professional, or supervisor observes and recommends the EAP to the employee. A formal referral may be mandatory based on poor performance or negative behavior.
An example of how an EAP can work for your employees
For a better look at how an EAP may be utilized at your organization, let’s consider an example.
An employee is experiencing domestic violence at home. This is causing them to arrive to work late and stay longer hours, but are less productive and more distracted than they usually are. The observant manager at a company with an EAP established can refer this employee to the HR department. There, the employee can receive the information they need about the EAP and how they can seek counseling or other support.
Since the EAP is a confidential program, the employee is given the appropriate resources to escape their domestic violence situation. The EAP can also put the protocols in place that prevent the spouse from showing up at the workplace unexpectedly and potentially causing harm to them or others.
The help your employees need
An employee assistance program could provide a team member with the relief they need to get back on track. At the end of the day, life happens outside of the office, and your organization can be the helping hand an employee needs during a time of grief, uncertainty, poor health, or a concerning family member. An EAP is how you show your employees you care about them and appreciate everything they do for your organization.
For even more ideas on how to show your employees you care, consider offering even more paid time off so they can get the rest they need.