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Understanding How Employee Assistance Programs Benefit Businesses

Understanding How Employee Assistance Programs Benefit Businesses

When employees are set up for success, companies enjoy the benefits. Happy, motivated employees are likely to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs, reducing turnover. While there are many options you, as an employer, can provide to create a great place to work, there are factors outside of the workplace that have a direct impact on the overall well-being of your employees.

An employee assistance program (EAP) is one tool employers can use to help stressed-out employees and improve morale and work performance. Let’s break down what an EAP does, how it benefits both employers and employees, and how your company can get the most out of its program.

What Is An Employee Assistance Program?

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines an EAP as “a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance.” These intervention programs are designed to give employees support for private matters until they can find a more permanent solution.

Employee assistance programs are a great way for businesses to improve their overall employee productivity and health. The programs provide employees with access to confidential counseling and support, as well as referral services for mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and other services. An ideal EAP should meet the criteria listed below:

  • Confidential - Given the personal nature of employee issues, EAPs should allow employees to seek support privately and anonymously.
  • Accessible – Services provided by an EAP should be accessible online and easy for employees to contact during and outside of work hours.
  • Available – Services should be readily available to all employees and immediate family members who are eligible for the program.
  • Short-term – EAPs aren’t meant to be permanent sources of aid. The services an EAP provides are designed to give employees access to key services and short-term help until they can find a good, long-term solution.

The exact form of support can differ greatly from program to program; however the goal is the same – to give employees the support they need to address factors that impact their mental and emotional health.

Examples Of Employee Assistance Programs

The average EAP provides a wide range of services aimed at providing critical support for your workforce, but the exact offering can vary from program to program. It’s most common for EAPs to address a number of personal issues, including the following concerns:

  • Relationship challenges
  • Grief over the loss of a loved one
  • Financial or legal problems
  • Stress management
  • Mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD
  • Substance abuse
  • Workplace or domestic violence
  • Crisis management

EAPs offer confidential, professional counseling and support to employees, free of charge. Some can even be accessed via phone, text, or email 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

While EAPs were traditionally developed to support personal issues, modern programs have expanded to include further services. Employers have found that several additional stressors impact work-life balance and an employee’s future plans. As the workplace evolves, modern EAPs have also included the following forms of support:

  • Childcare
  • Eldercare
  • Adoption specialists 
  • Retirement planning
  • Living wills
  • Pet care
  • Academic and tutor resources
  • Personal and professional development

Benefits Of Employee Assistance Programs

More stress means more problems for both employees and employers. According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workforce Report, a whopping 57% of U.S. employees reported feeling stress on a daily basis. By alleviating that stress, EAPs can help businesses enjoy the following benefits:

  • Reduced absenteeism 
  • Increased productivity 
  • Better morale
  • Improved retention
  • Stronger applicant pools

Reduced absenteeism

Outside stressors can often lead to employees taking additional sick days or simply calling off to attend to personal issues. EAPs give employees the means to alleviate those stresses. A study by Federal Occupational Health (FOH) found that companies that offer EAPs saw a 69.2% decrease in absenteeism by giving employees access to various means of personal support.

Increased productivity

Just because employees are physically at work doesn’t mean that they’re productive. Behavioral health concerns such as stress, anxiety, or depression directly impact how engaged employees are at work. That same FOH study found that employees with access to assistance programs were 22.8% less checked out while on the job and more invested in their work.

When an employee has an issue that's causing them to miss work or perform poorly, it can trickle down to affect the entire department's productivity. Having a program in place that helps individuals deal with these issues before they become a problem is a great way to be proactive.

Better morale

Another benefit the FOH found was that EAPs could improve employees’ sense of overall well-being. Studies found that EAPs increased users’ life satisfaction by 24.2% by addressing stressors that caused personal distress. In turn, employee morale is substantially better when employees take advantage of EAP services.

Improved retention

Simply put, stress makes good employees leave. EAPs show employees that your business cares about their well-being, making them less likely to suffer burnout or look for a fresh start somewhere else. In addition, EAPs can help prevent employees from being fired by helping them manage personal issues before they negatively impact their work performance.

Stronger applicant pools

Assistance programs can also encourage solid talent to join your business. According to SHRM, 76% of employees “Consider mental health benefits to be a critical factor when evaluating new jobs.” An EAP is a clear sign that your business takes employee mental health seriously.

How To Get An Employee Assistance Program Started

Getting started can be overwhelming. Here are some tips on how to launch an EAP plan:

  1. Decide what kind of EAP you want. Do you want one that caters specifically to your company's needs, or do you want a one-size-fits-all program?
  2. Decide on a budget. Your budget will be an important consideration when choosing an EAP. You can calculate how much it will cost per employee by year or month to get a baseline—it might be less than you expect!
  3. Research different EAP providers—they should all have websites where you can read about their services and compare pricing and the benefits offered. Analyze the information from each provider and choose one that best fits the overall needs of your company.

Another option is to contact your company’s insurance provider and see if they offer an EAP service. For a truly turn-key experience, you can hire a third-party agency to broker an EAP program for your business. It’s important to keep in mind that the size of your business may ultimately determine how many options are available to you.

Once you have done the heavy lifting of choosing a program and getting an EAP in place for your business, it’s critical to focus on employee communication. It’s important that everyone in your organization, from HR to management, understands their role in the program and how to assist if an employee needs assistance from the program. In addition, it’s crucial that the EAP rollout is well communicated throughout your organization so that each employee understands the value of the program, what is being offered to them, and how to take advantage of this benefit.

How To Maximize The Value Of Your Employee Assistance Program

Offering an EAP is one step. Getting employees to use it is another. National studies find that EAP utilization averages just under 10%, but not because the programs are ineffective. SHRM reports a couple of key reasons for the low usage rate:

  • Privacy concerns – Employees either feel uncomfortable sharing personal issues or are afraid that employers will gain access to their personal health information.
  • Lack of promotion – Companies either don’t promote these programs efficiently, or employees aren’t aware of how to access services.

Even with low participation numbers, employers who offered an EAP typically enjoyed a return on investment of at least $3 for every $1 spent, according to the 2020 Workplace Outcome Suite. Still, there are ways that businesses can encourage better EAP participation and receive even more value from their programs.

Regularly promote EAP awareness 

It’s not uncommon for employees to only hear about their EAP once during the onboarding process or when the program launches. It’s best to give employees regular reminders about their EAP and how to access these services. These reminders can come in multiple forms – during annual meetings, email updates, etc. Regardless of how you send the message, multiple reminders will only increase the odds that employees will utilize these services.

Stress your commitment to privacy 

It’s not always easy for individuals to admit they need help. That said, it’s essential to communicate that employees can privately access services online or on the phone around the clock.

In addition, employees should understand that their interactions with these services are completely private and are not shared with the employer or others within the company. By stressing the private nature of an EAP, employees are more likely to explore these services on their own terms.

Work with HR advocates

It’s not always easy to manage the various aspects of benefits administration by yourself. Fortunately, you don’t have to promote and manage your EAP alone. The right EAP provider can help you maximize the effectiveness of your program.

GMS partners with businesses to offer critical assistance and educate employees about how to best utilize these services. We help employers deliver a quality benefits package without having to spend the time to administer these benefits by themselves, including group health insurance, assistance programs, and more.

Ready to enhance your employee benefits package? Contact us now about how GMS can help you save time and money through expert benefits administration.

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