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March 10, 2009

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When it comes to helping employees balance career and life priorities, an HR professional can do no better than to encourage the implementation of a top-notch Employee Assistance and Worklife Program. While a majority of Fortune 500 and 1000 companies already have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and worklife programs, many smaller companies are not aware that they too can affordably implement an EAP/worklife program that will benefit their employees, their managers, and their bottom lines. Whether you're wondering how to select the best program for your organization, questioning if you should switch vendors, or hoping to get the most from your existing program, here are some important issues to consider.

What is an EAP and what are its benefits? An EAP is a worksite-based program designed to assist:

  • Organizations in addressing productivity issues
  • Employees in identifying and resolving personal concerns that may affect job performance

EAP benefits for employees include:

  • Confidential assessment and short-term problem resolution services foremployees/family members/significant others. Eligible program users can get help with a broad range of problems, including:
  • Marital, family, and relationship issues
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Workplace-related problems
  • Financial and legal problems
  • Substance abuse problems

EAP benefits for managers usually include:

  • Management consultation services providing expert guidance and consultation to managers working with a nonperforming or troubled employee.
  • Manager training sessions describing the EAP benefit and providing executives and supervisors with the skills needed to identify and refer troubled employees to the EAP.

Types of EAP programs include:

  • Referral only-Employees and managers are provided with a telephone number that accesses in-person and/or telephonic referrals to providers, community resources, self-help programs, etc.
  • Internal EAPs-The EAP provider is an employee of the company and has an office on company premises
  • External EAPs-EAP consultants located off company premises and working for an organization hired by the company provide a range of crisis intervention, assessment, short-term counseling, and referrals to specialized resources. Removed from the direct eye of the employer, they are often found to be more acceptable to the employee.

Cost of EAP Programs & ROI

For a surprisingly small investment, businesses find that EAPs actually save them money. Studies show that businesses of all sizes and types average a minimum of $4 return for each dollar invested in an EAP. Program costs can range from under $2.00 per employee per month (PEPM) to $3.75 PEPM, depending on the scope of the program and the number of employees covered, as well as other factors.

Why the terrific return on investment (ROI)?

  • Studies indicate that about 10% of the workforce are substance abusers contributing to a 50% decrease in productivity. At any given time one in three employees is struggling with a personal problem, resulting in a 30% decrease in employee work quality. EAPs reduce down time from tardiness, absenteeism, or distractions.
  • Exit interviews report that employees identify work/life issues as the primary reason for searching for new employment. Approximately 20% of total payroll costs are attributed to absenteeism, turnover, and new staff training. EAPs demonstrate the employer's concern and interest in its workforce and provide a very attractive benefit to recruit and retain quality employees.
  • Employers continue to experience significant increases in healthcare costs. Medical claims because of accidents and health problems are two to three times higher for troubled employees. EAPs assist employers in addressing significant employee personal problems proactively, resulting in a reduction of healthcare costs and expenses from absenteeism, turnover, and training of new hires.
  • HR staff and managers are inundated with a variety of employee issues that distract from their core responsibilities. By allowing EAP services to respond and manage these types of problems, HR and management can concentrate on their primary responsibilities.

Selecting an EAP

When selecting a new EAP or reviewing an existing EAP, ask about the provider's expertise and reputation. Questions you should ask include:

  • How long has the provider been in business?
  • How many clients does the provider serve?
  • What types of clients does the provider serve? (You might want your EAP company to be already familiar with the unique needs of your industry.)
  • What is the reputation of the provider? Does it have references?

Always ask about coverage and access procedures:

  • Who answers the phone when you call? (Should be a licensed professional and not a secretary.)
  • How long after initial contact are appointments provided? (Should be within two business days.)
  • Is coverage 24/7/365? (It should be.)
  • How is after-hours coverage handled? (Should be provided by a live, master's level professional clinician.)

Ask the following credentialing questions:

  • What are the credentials of the EAP consultants? (Consultants should be minimum master's level social workers, psychologists, and/or counselors with state licenses.)
  • Does the EAP have an affiliate provider network? (Make sure that there are providers for all your corporate locations and a mechanism to add more providers swiftly if necessary.)
  • Selection process and credentials of these affiliate providers? (Providers should be carefully screened. The EAP should maintain files containing the each provider's resume and copies of relevant licenses and diplomas, as well as up-to-date malpractice insurance. Each provider should be, at a minimum, a master's level social worker, psychologist, or counselor.)

Here are questions to ask regarding calls and contacts:

  • Does the EAP provide face-to-face assessment and consultation? (Don't buy a program that does not include face-to-face intervention.)
  • How many sessions does the EAP provide? (The national average session utilization is four. You do not necessarily need a program that provides more than four sessions. You may prefer a flexible program that "provides what the situation requires" rather than a specific number of sessions.)
  • How often can employees and managers call/use sessions? (You want this to be generous-not limited to one call per problem situation.)
  • How are referrals and follow up handled? (You want the process of referral to be very hands on and you want follow up on each and every situation.)
  • Are self-referrals allowed? (There are pros and cons to this issue. Employees like having continuity of care-i.e., the EAP provider will also provide longer-term therapy if appropriate. But allowing self-referrals can lead to conflicts of interest.)

You should ask the following organizational interface questions:

  • What kind of reports are provided? How often? (Reports are typically done on an annual basis and provide demographic information about program utilization while protecting individual employee confidentiality.)
  • Does the provider offer manager referrals? (Companies that have had an EAP for many years will tell you that this is the single most useful service provided.)
  • Does the provider offer employee orientations and manager trainings? (These should be free-included in the annual contract price. You will want all of your employees and managers to be trained eventually.)
  • Does the provider offer wellness seminars? (Most EAPs will offer a set number of these (usually three per year)-for free-included in the annual contract price.)
  • Does the provider offer CISD's? (CISD's, or Critical Incident Stress Debriefings, are specialized group intervention techniques provided to employees in the aftermath of workplace tragedies, such as fatal industrial accidents, national tragedies, and violent incidents. CISD's are designed to minimize the psychological impact of these events and their effect on productivity.)
  • How does the EAP handle confidentiality?

Finally, ask the following fee questions: What is the fee per employee, per month (PEPM)? What does the fee include? When reviewing fees make sure you are comparing apples to apples-for example, a program that only covers employees may cost less than a program that covers employees, family members, and significant others-obviously the latter program is far more comprehensive.

Marina London is the vice president of operations for Longview Associates, Inc., (http://www.problemshavesolutions.com) a national Employee Assistance Program (EAP) serving over 110 corporations and not-for-profit organizations. Longview provides Work/Life Programs, Workplace Trauma Services, Employee Assistance Programs, and Organizational Development and Consulting. Contact Marina at (914) 946-0525 or via e-mail: mlondon@problemshavesolutions.com

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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