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EAP and the bottom line

By Leslee Mason
| www.cos-mag.com

Canadians are a stressed out bunch. According to the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS) from Statistics Canada, 27 per cent of workers — or nearly 3.7 million working adults — described their lives on most days as “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful.  Another 6.3 million (46 per cent) said they were “a bit” stressed.

Whether the stress is related to marriage issues, financial strain or a heavy workload, those feelings can negatively impact an employee’s ability to stay focused and productive on the job.

It’s a costly problem for employers. According to the Mental Health Commission, mental illness is estimated to cost the Canadian economy $51 billion per year in health care service use, lost workdays and work disruptions. To help offset those types of costs and keep their workforce healthy, many employers turn to third-party providers of employee assistance programs (EAPs) or employee family assistance programs (EFAPs), as they’re also called.

Commonly offered as part of a benefits package, EAPs provide employees and their dependents with a variety of wellness services including short-term individual and family counseling, nutritional and health coaching, financial and legal support, smoking cessation, and even help with things like finding child and elder care. The goal is to provide easy access to support to help address those challenges and get employees back to optimal functioning as quickly as possible. Some providers also offer a range of organizational services such as managerial training, workshops and critical incident support.

More and more organizations recognize that personal issues — both positive and challenging — impact how employees perform on the job, says Barbara Veder clinical director of clinical services for Morneau Shepell, which provides human resource consulting and outsourcing services. “In order to optimize the work environment and the work performance, people need support to get the balance they need.”

While employees get quality information and confidential emotional support at their fingertips, employers also benefit from EAPs. A 2011 study from Morneau Shepell reported that EAP intervention resulted in a 34 per cent reduction in costs related to productivity loss. Decreased absenteeism and talent retention are other known outcomes.

“When employees get the resources they need — whether for their families or themselves — it can be really helpful because they’re not so preoccupied or worried with their problem,” says Debra Wolinsky, senior director, clinical operations with EAP service provider PPC Canada.  “They know they are actively addressing it through the support of their EAP service.” And that, she says, helps employees actually stay engaged when they’re at work. “They’re making fewer mistakes, there’s greater concentration — they’re really able to focus at work.”

A careful process

Like finding the right employee, choosing an EAP provider should be a careful process. “I think what organizations need to do is be really clear about what their expectations are, what their needs are (and) what they’re hoping to accomplish by securing the services of an EAP for their organization,” says Wolinsky.

Once EAP options have been identified, next comes figuring out how much impact you want the program to have.

“What you really need to understand is what is it that you want to do for your employee,” says Chris Fuchs, plan advisor with White Willow Benefits Consultants Inc., based in Stouffville, Ont. Do you want a basic level service that can help an individual with possible first steps in dealing with a problem, or do you want to offer a more comprehensive range of services? Not surprisingly, the greater the services provided the greater the financial investment.

How workers will access the EAP is another consideration. Telephone, in-person and e-counseling are the most common ways to reach individuals. Many providers also have content-rich websites. Morneau Shepell also recently introduced video counseling and a free app that enables users to access health and wellness articles, e-counseling and on demand video clips via their Blackberry and Apple mobile devices.

“If you’re selecting an EAP you want to think of the ways people can access service,” says Veder, citing as an example the small group of individuals who prefer the anonymity of telephonic counseling over face to face meetings. “A good quality EAP will look at multiple ways of providing counseling support.”

To discover all that EAPs offer, Wolinsky recommends calling providers to find out exactly what they do. EAP associations can also be a great wealth of info. For example, on easna.org the online home of the Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA), employers can access a free guide to purchasing an EAP.

Share the info

While EAP providers make it part of their job to educate those who access their services about all that is offered, employers also need to do their part to help employees get the most out of EAPs. Wolinsky says that many organizations do a great job, but not all remember to fully promote offerings outside traditional counsel services.

“Some employees don’t know about that — that there are legal consultations, financial consultations, that we have nutritional coaching, wellness coaching or health coaching,” says Wolinsky. “So I think that employers could do a better job in some situations about providing information about the full suite of services that EAPs likely offer.”

The company intranet, newsletters, bulletin boards and even pay stubs are all good places to promote EAPs. Piggybacking off existing health days or months is another good idea, says Wolinsky. For example, during the month of November there are a number of awareness campaigns going on including ones for diabetes, lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The greater the promotion, the more likely employees will know about and take advantage of the EAP services offered to them. Ideally, the result is a healthier, happier workforce and a stronger work environment.

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