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A Manager’s Guide to EAPs: Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs are one of the lesser-known benefits business owners can offer, but they can have a significant positive impact on the long-term health of your company’s workforce. Learn about the benefits of implementing an Employee Assistance Plan at your workplace and how to find a program that suits your business and company culture needs.

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What is an Employee Assistance Program?

An Employee Assistance Program or EAP is an employer-sponsored service that provides personal and professional support to employees to help them manage issues and problems related to work. EAPs offer employees a free counseling benefit, usually alongside a company’s health insurance plan, so that they have a stable and reliable outlet for managing issues like stress and anxiety. They are designed to be a holistic support system that encourages each employee’s overall personal and professional wellness, making them an important benefit for employers who want to invest in the happiness and work-life balance of their team.

Related:Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace: A Guide

How EAPs work

EAPs connect employees with counselors and other personal support resources. Typically the resources are free and there is often a 24/7 phone line. Usually administered by a third-party provider, EAPs are completely confidential, giving employees a safe space to address issues without fearing retribution or judgment from their supervisor.

EAPs can help employees who are going through a difficult time or experiencing hardship, but they also offer preventative care through wellness consultation services. Some of the main topics that EAPs can help employees with include:

  • Grief when losing a loved one
  • Nutrition
  • Legal issues
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Other mental illness
  • Relationship issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Basic medical advice
  • Workplace problems
  • Finances

EAPs are not designed to be a long-term solution to personal problems for employees. Instead, they provide urgent assistance to employees in need and direct them to the resources they can incorporate into their lifestyle. EAP professionals speak with the employee to identify an issue and create an action plan for resolving it that works for that person’s unique circumstances.

Who can use EAP benefits?

Once your company is enrolled in an EAP, all of your employees will be eligible to use its services. Some EAPs also extend their benefits to family members of your employees. Employees can take advantage of an EAP’s service through three main channels:

  • Independent outreach:Employees who look into their benefits call the EAP provider directly as a way to be proactive about personal or professional concerns they are experiencing.
  • Interpersonal suggestions:Coworkers can recommend the EAP to their colleagues or family members. While no employee has to disclose that they use the EAP to their coworkers or managers, they might recommend them to others after having a positive experience.
  • Official referral:If a manager or human resources professional becomes aware that an employee is struggling, they can make an official referral. Official referrals make sure the employee is aware of the benefit and encourage them to resolve problems impacting their performance or mood at work.

Benefits of having an EAP at your business

Looking after your employee’s overall wellbeing through having an EAP has a range of benefits for both employees and employers. Employees get the direct benefit of having professional advisors who can guide them in the right direction and provide resources to assist them in solving problems. In addition to having happier and healthier employees, businesses can also experience these positive impacts from having an EAP.

Improved productivity

Employees who have a clear outlet for managing stress are able to improve their focus and be more productive at work. High levels of stress from personal or professional issues can cause people to get distracted at work, feel tired and sluggish, become withdrawn during group projects and feel less motivated. When they are able to get real help through an EAP, their overall demeanor and productivity can also improve at work.

Fewer absences

EAP programs are designed to help employees candle issues so that they don’t develop into larger problems that significantly impact their health or livelihood. Employees may take fewer sick days and days off when they are feeling relaxed and productive instead of stressed and worried. When employees are stressed and overwhelmed at work, they may need to take more and longer breaks to cope with challenges in the workday, missing meetings or projects. There are many different causes of chronic lateness and absenteeism, and the EAP may be able to provide employees with access to helpful resources that target the issues causing their lateness.

Related:Mitigating Employee Burnout: Action Items for Managers

Employee-focused culture

Putting your employee’s wellbeing first by providing them with an EAP creates a culture of mutual respect and dedication. Your employees are the people who generate value for the business and emphasizing the importance of self-care shows them that you are committed to creating a mutually beneficial situation in the workplace.

Preventing workplace incidents

Employers can suggest that their employees use their EAP program during conflicts with colleagues, company restructuring or other stressful events to reduce the possibilityof disruptive behavior or violence in the workplace. When company leadership identifies erratic behavior, they can make an EAP referral to address the core of the issue instead of immediately taking disciplinary action.

Better retention

EAPs help employees handle challenges and stresses early before they become severe enough to cause them to quit or take time off. When employees know that their workplace provides tools for them to overcome problems, they have the ability to solve problems at work instead of leaving the company. Additionally, the positive cultural impact that results from effective EAPs can cause employees to feel happier and more connected to their workplace and want to stay longer, limiting employee turnover.

Tips for finding an EAP provider

You can decide on the scope of your EAP benefits depending on employee needs and company resources. Use these tips to select a reputable provider that gives you the most value for your money:

Decide which type is right for you

There are several different structures you can use to administer an EAP program. Some of the common ways to deliver EAP benefits to employees are:

  • In-house:Larger companies and corporations may have counselors and social workers on staff to support other employees. In-house EAPs still abide by confidentiality rules even though they are run by the company.
  • Pay-per-service:Employers have an ongoing contract but only pay providers when someone takes advantage of a benefit.
  • Fixed-fee: Employers sign up for a suite of services and pay the same amount to access them regardless of who uses their benefits.
  • Consortia:Small companies can form a coalition to split the costs of a high-volume EAP plan.

Follow EAPA recommendations

The Employee Assistance Professionals Association has a list of standards they use to evaluate whether an EAP is trustworthy. Research each provider and ensure they meet all of these industry best practices:

  • 24-hour crisis assistance
  • Standardized referral recommendations
  • Training programs for businesses
  • Certified staff
  • Multiple forms of outreach
  • Legal compliance
  • Multi-lingual services

Evaluate the intake process

Make sure that the EAP program is easy-to-use for employees by learning about the provider’s intake procedures. Consider wait times, website accessibility and follow-up procedures after the initial outreach to make sure that usability is not a barrier to employees getting help.

How much does an EAP cost employers?

The cost of an EAP can vary depending on the structure of the plan and the size of your company, varying from about $12 to $40 per employee per year. Generally, the more employees you have, the less it will cost for each employee. The methods you choose to administer your EAP program can have a direct impact on your EAP costs, with group programs like consortia costing less and in-house EAPs costing more.

How to advertise your EAP

Once you have an EAP in place, you need to advertise the program to employees so they know it is available and understand how to use it. Follow these steps to develop company awareness of the EAP benefits the business offers:

  1. Set program guidelines:Based on educational materials from your provider, educate leadership about the EAP and set clear guidelines for when to refer employees and how to access services.
  2. Update the employee handbook:List the EAP’s contact information in the employee handbook so that everyone at the company knows how to access it.
  3. Put up posters:Post flyers and posters in shared spaces within the workplace so that employees are regularly reminded that they can call the EAP.
  4. Give verbal reminders:During HR meetings and wellness events, talk to employees about the benefits of using the EAP and direct them to the proper channels for finding more information.
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