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Friday, May 2, 2003

EAPs offer employers promising returns, especially in tough times

San Antonio Business Journal - by Janet Saldaña-Dumas 

Many employed Americans consider themselves lucky these days. The lingering trend of corporate downsizing and now the unpredictability of today's struggling economy emphasize the importance of keeping a good job. 

Research shows that many employees with personal problems unintentionally bring their troubles to the workplace. Marital problems, depression, substance abuse and a myriad of other issues can adversely affect the employee's job performance. Troubled employees have greater rates of absenteeism, tardiness, and use of sick leave -- all of which lead to a loss of productivity. Quite simply, employees with unresolved personal problems cost companies money. Recognizing that supervisors are not trained nor expected to resolve employees' personal problems, many companies 
offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of their benefits package. 

An EAP is a savvy management tool that provides employees with a pre-paid, pre-determined number of counseling sessions with a professional counselor. The program is confidential and is also open to the employee's family members. 
The EAP provides a thorough and timely evaluation of an employee's needs. Then, depending on the type of problem, brief treatment, crisis intervention, or referrals to appropriate community resources are provided. 

Management consultation services are also provided and include training on crisis management, conflict resolution, and handling of cases involving performance-based issues, such as an employee's excessive use of leave or decreasing performance.
When weighing a company's need for an EAP, consider the benefits. Having such a program in place could result in: 

  • A boost in employee morale. 

  • A reduction in employee turnover. It is more cost effective to offer assistance to good employees experiencing difficulties than to spend time and dollars to recruit and train replacements. 

  • An increase in productivity. After receiving help, the employee is able to focus on the job. Absenteeism is also decreased. 

  • More efficient use of supervisor's time. Supervisors no longer need to spend inordinate amounts of time trying to manage troubled employees. 

Many studies have been conducted to determine the cost benefit of Employee Assistance Programs. The average return on investment is $13 in gained productivity for every $1 spent on an EAP. Offering an EAP can be a win-win situation for all businesses, both large and small.

Selecting an EAP 

There are a variety of EAP models to choose from. One example is the "on-site" program, which is based at the company and staffed either with an external vendor or internal company staff. 

The most common EAP is an "off site" program, which uses an external contractor. There are several resources available to help launch a search for the Employee Assistance Program that is right for your business, among them: informal referral from human resource benefit managers, a human resources professional trade group and the National EAP Professionals Association. 

There are a number of key points to bear in mind when evaluating an EAP: 

  • Are the program's counselors or clinicians licensed or certified? Certification helps ensure counselors are qualified to provide the needed services; that they are held to a high level of professional standards; receive continuing education in their field of specialty; and that a licensure board ensures ethical practices. 

  • Is the EAP staff gender-balanced, multi-cultural, and bilingual? Programs with a diverse staff of clinicians can often better meet the employees' needs. 

  • What kinds of issues are the counselors trained to handle? 

  • Does the program offer convenient locations? 

  • Is there an after hours phone number for evenings, weekends and holidays? 

Added stress 

Companies trying to decide whether or not to make an EAP available for their employees should consider that in addition to the stress of everyday life, we're also now faced with a new challenge: the conflict in Iraq. Some employees may experience general anxiety over the developments while others may have loved ones serving in the military. 

As was the case when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, companies are calling on their EAPs for crisis management services. Additional stress caused by these external factors can have as negative an impact on an employee's productivity as a personal problem. EAP services can be beneficial in either of these situations. 

Locating a comprehensive, quality EAP is a good business decision that helps companies maximize productivity and lower absenteeism costs. Now, more than ever, may be the right time to add this valuable employee benefit. 

Janet Saldaña-Dumas is program director for the Family Service Association's Employee Assistance Program

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