Should you offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Now more than ever, your employees are dealing with an increased mental load. Perhaps it’s just the months of social isolation due to the quarantine, the new-found role of round-the-clock caregiver for children or elderly family members, the financial insecurity stemming from lay-offs, or simply just the uncertainty of our times (Explosions! Murder hornets! Political unrest! 2020 is bringing them all!) These increased daily stressors are bringing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to the forefront as an important perk that companies should offer, both to benefit their employees and their bottom line. 

So, let’s start with the basics. At baseline, an EAP is a counseling and consultation service that connects your employees with qualified counselors who provide confidential support, practical guidance, and even referrals for additional providers and resources. Areas of expertise for these programs typically include – but are certainly not limited to coping with illness and injury, grief and loss, relationship concerns, drug and alcohol addiction, marriage and family troubles and financial and legal stressors. However, they can also be on hand to provide just general support and give tips on stress management stemming from any issue or concern. Under the model, your employee or anyone covered by their benefits call a centralized number and be connected to an available counselor skilled in talking through their problem. It can be a one-time phone call or require a follow-up, or it can result in a referral to an outside practitioner who can provide longer-term counseling services and support. 

While the concept might sound somewhat new, EAPs have been around since the 1940s and are actually quite popular, with a 2019 Society for Human Resource Management survey suggesting that a whopping 79% of companies currently provide the service for their employees. As to why the companies offer such a perk, the US Department of Labor cites the following benefits: 

  • Reduced absenteeism: With employees able to discuss their issues and counselors available to help provide solutions or referrals to potential solutions, employees are less likely to feel “stuck” and will not need to call out as frequently to handle stressors. 
  • Lower turnover: When workers feel supported by their employer, particularly in achieving a work-life balance, they are more likely to feel valued and thus engaged. Multiple studies have proven engagement is directly tied to an individual’s desire to stay on the job and not begin looking for employment elsewhere.
  • Improved productivity: Studies also suggest that happy workers are generally harder workers, so if you have a workforce that feels supported and is able to work through emotional challenges, you can reap the benefits with higher productivity and potentially a better bottom line.
  • Lower costs: When employees talk out small issues, it prevents them from snowballing into larger problems that require multi-level interventions. Reaching out to a counselor at the first signs of stress and learning some effective coping strategies can prevent an employee from needing months of costly therapy and medications down the line. Further, employees that feel less stressed have lower rates of healthcare costs — since we all know that stress can do a number on your physical health! — and are also less likely to have an accident at work, meaning that it may save you on your workers compensation claims.
  • Improved coping skills: When employees learn effective coping strategies for everyday stressors, they may be able to apply these same strategies to workplace stressors and issues. When given the tools to objectively examine an issue and evaluate various paths forward, employees will be better equipped to successfully respond to on-the-job challenges, such as restructuring, program changes, or other large events.
  • Lower risk of workplace violence and safety events: Similarly, giving employees access to a confidential counselor to teach these coping skills could potentially prevent employees from taking out their frustrations, towards coworkers, family or friends, in a more violent manner and head off what could become a catastrophic workplace event.
  • Facilitating return to work: Following a stressful event, part of your job as a business owner is to facilitate the safe return of your employee to the workplace. Employees who have an opportunity to speak with a qualified counselor and work through stressors, whether current or anticipated, will generally have a timelier return to work following an event than their peers without such access.

Acknowledging these benefits, Abel some time ago added an EAP to their list of offerings – in this blog post we profiled what the EAP does, who is eligible for the services, and how it can be accessed. However, since this blog post went live, we have partnered with a new company, Lifeworks, to offer an expanded suite of offerings to our members. In addition to counseling for the “usual” life issues, our partnership with Lifeworks includes guidance on an array of health topics, including smoking cessation, nutrition, and sleep (among others), as well as a renewed focus on financial stressors and guidance, including information on budgeting, investing, retirement planning, real estate and renting, estate planning, and even bankruptcy support.

To learn more about Abel’s EAP or to find out if an EAP is a good fit for your company, give us a call at 609.860.0400 or drop us a comment below and we’ll have one of our benefits experts reach out to you to talk more in depth about how to bring this benefit to your business.