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Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are plans that help identify and resolve issues facing troubled employees through short-term counseling, referrals to specialized professionals or organizations, and follow-up services. Many EAPs also train business owners and supervisors to recognize and deal with behavioral problems in the workforce. These programs are not designed to provide long-term treatment, but as Business Week noted, "they do offer a safe environment where an employee can discuss problems with a counselor who then makes a confidential assessment, and if necessary, gives a referral to a mental-health professional." Indeed, business experts regard them as a potentially valuable tool in reversing declining performance among valued workers. "We're not talking here about employees who turn violent or hear voices," said Business Week. "The people a business owner needs to worry about are the valued workers whose productivity suddenly and mysteriously plummets. From depression to anxiety, from drug abuse to alcohol addiction, common psychiatric disorders take a remarkable, if little-discussed, toll. In lost productivity and absenteeism alone, the cost to business approaches $312 billion annually."

Given these sobering statistics regarding the impact of emotional disorders on business productivity, employee assistance programs have become an increasingly popular element of total benefits packages for small and large employers alike.

First created in response to business concerns about the impact of employee alcohol and drug abuse on bottom-line productivity, employee assistance programs (EAPs) are now designed to deal with a wider range of issues confronting workers today. Modern EAP systems are designed to help workers with other problems as well, such as family and/or marriage counseling, depression, stress, gambling addiction, financial difficulties, crisis planning, illness among family or co-workers, and pre-retirement planning. Many EAPs have also expanded the scope of their counseling to help workers grapple with eldercare issues, natural disasters, and workplace violence. In addition, many employee assistance programs have added proactive elements to their offerings. For example, a number of employee assistance programs have actively promoted AIDS/HIV workplace policies and education efforts.

This expansion in the scope of EAP counseling is commonly attributed to changes in America's larger social fabric. "The prevalence of two-wage-earner families, single parent households, mobility and career change patterns, demographic shifts, and technological change have helped to create new and different types of stress and mental health crises, which affect the health and productivity of many employees," wrote Jody Osterweil in Pension World. "Where individuals formerly sought advice and counsel from a respected cleric, a personal physician, a close family member or a friend, those relationships are increasingly rare and cannot fulfill individuals' needs for crisis intervention. Thus, individuals experiencing a personal or family crisis, or who are under chronic stress, may have no place to turn for advice other than to the benefits (the EAP) offered through their workplace."

In addition, companies have come to realize that a direct link can often be detected between employee well-being and employee productivity, and that the difference in value between happy and unhappy employees can often be quite profound. This is especially true if the troubled person is a manager or supervisor with important responsibilities. In addition, erratic behavior from one employee typically has a ripple effect, producing anxiety and lost efficiency in numerous other employees who have to deal with the troubled individual on a regular basis. "Despite continuing technological advances, today's companies rely on their employees to improve productivity and increase the bottom line," wrote Brian W. Gill in American Printer. "Therefore, the relationship between employees' well-being and productivity cannot be ignored. Personal and work-related problems may manifest themselves in poor job performance, which adversely affects the firm's overall productivity." Indeed, consultants contend that few staffers are able to wholly shield their work performance from the negative residue of personal difficulties. Increased absenteeism, higher accident rates, substandard performance on previously mastered tasks, employee theft, and poor morale are just some of the symptoms that may appear if an employee is struggling to handle a problem in his or her personal or professional life.

Finding EAPs nearby is possible using an online service provided by the Employee Assistance Professional Association at http://www.eapassn.org/pub-lic/providers/. The Web site enables the user to specify the category or multiple categories of assistance sought and pick a geographical area. EAPs will be presented with contact information.

KEY ADVANTAGES OF EAP IMPLEMENTATION

Perceived costs associated with implementation and maintenance of employee assistance programs looms as the biggest concern for most small business owners. Many owners of small businesses recognize that EAPs can be helpful to the members of their work force, but the specter of yet another operating expenditure may dissuade them. But analysts say that small business owners can institute an employee assistance program for their employees at relatively small expense. Monthly fees for legitimate EAP providers typically range from $2 to $6 per employee, according to some estimates.

Benefits experts and businesses alike cite several important benefits associated with employee assistance programs. Business owners are, of course, concerned with the utility of an EAP as a cost-management tool. To an entrepreneur with a small business, the most important advantage associated with an EAP is likely to be its positive impact on employee productivity and its use in controlling health care costs. But according to many businesses that have adopted employee assistance programs, there are other benefits that may accrue as well. For example, companies that provide for an EAP may be viewed as more employee-supportive in the community in which they operate than will competitors for workers who do not provide such a program. In addition, employee assistance programs have been cited as an effective element in employee retention efforts designed at reducing turnover.

But a less remarked on advantage associated with EAP implementation is that it frees up the company to do what it does bestprovide its goods or services to its customersinstead of devoting work time to issues that may not be directly related to meeting production deadlines, etc. Basically, putting together an EAP allows business owners and managers to concentrate on their internal operations. "We have to focus on the job and the ability to do the job," one business executive told the Pittsburgh Business Times. "We don't want to play counselor and dive into areas we're not qualified for."

CHOOSING AN EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

The characteristics and quality of EAP programs can vary considerably, so small business owners should undertake a careful study of their options before selecting a plan. Factors to consider when comparing programs include:

Appropriate qualifications. The EAP you select for your company should be operated by professionally licensed staff with established relations with local health groups and/or national self-help organizations. They should also be engaged in continuing education initiatives. Check their affiliations and level of EAP experience when reviewing their program.

Find out about cost structure. Roberta Reynes noted in Nation's Business that costs can vary considerably from program to program, depending on operation structure, types and extent of services provided, and method of calculating charges. Benefits experts also recommend that small business owners make sure that materials and administration costs incurred by EAP providers are included in their base fee. National services tend to offer more affordable programs than local providers, but this is by no means always the case.

Extent of training services. EAP training programs vary widely in scope and subject matter. The most comprehensive plans provide managers with assistance in confronting troubled employees, developing wellness policies, and arranging seminars on health issues.

Convenience and responsiveness. Business owners should seek out EAP providers with facilities that are in the same geographic region as the company, so that employees can visit the facilities before, during, or after work. The EAP that is ultimately selected should also have a toll-free telephone line that is operational around the clock, since difficulties do not always strike employees during traditional working hours. In addition, business owners should inquire about the program's response time to employee inquiries in nonemergency situations (a wait of more than three days is a warning sign that the program has problems with its central mandate: helping troubled employees).

Communication. "Most providers issue monthly updates," said Karen Carney in an article published in the magazine Inc. "But they should also record their own effectiveness in helping you reach agreed-upon productivity goals or implement safety programs. Some providers also supply payroll handouts or "stuffers" on subjects like practical parenting."

NOURISHING YOUR EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Training of managers and other supervisory personnel (including the owner, if he or she is actively involved in supervision) is a vital component of instituting a successful EAP. "Managers who have the most contact with employees will be the first line of defense in recognizing potential problems and correcting them before they reach the termination stage," stated Gill. "Therefore, it is imperative that managers understand the objectives of the EAP to ensure the program's success and reduce any potential employer liability." In addition, management personnel have to be adequately instructed about what Gill termed "the do's and don'ts" of EAPs. They can refer employees to the assistance program, but no one can be forced to seek assistance. Supervisors and employees must understand that these services are strictly confidential and using them will not be cause for disciplinary action. However, being involved in an EAP service does not exempt employees from disciplinary action when company rules are violated. This is a very fine line that must be addressed in supervisory training.

Promotion of the program is another important element for small businesses seeking to maximize the effectiveness of their EAP. "All too often, plan sponsors assume that employees are fully cognizant of the EAP and the services it offers," stated Osterweil. "Employees and dependents must become more aware of the program's existence, the nature of its resources and coverages, and the means of accessing such programs. Employees must develop confidence in the abilities of those providing such services, trust that confidentiality will be assured, and obtain knowledge that their specific needs can be addressed through the resources available from the EAP. Simply publishing an '800' telephone number in a summary plan description, or posting a notice in the workplace, is not likely to effectively communicate the existence of this valuable resource."

Osterweil noted, though, that a coordinated approach that is non-threatening in tone and that indicates that "the sponsor truly desires to meaningfully assist and retain employees and sees them as a valuable resource" can help significantly in reassuring employees about the program's character and purpose. For that reason, benefits experts counsel small businesses to establish a plan in which workers are provided with regular, timely (around the holidays, for instance) reminders of the availability and offerings of their employee assistance program, including assurances that the program is confidential and free.

EVALUATING ESTABLISHED EAPs

Once an employee assistance program has been put in place, it is up to the sponsor to make certain that it is an effective addition to their overall benefits package. After all, an EAP that does not address the primary needs and concerns of a company's employees is essentially a waste of money. Admittedly, determining the effectiveness of an employee assistance program can sometimes be a difficult task, since employee problems like family strife, substance abuse, and workplace stress are impossible to quantify. For example, an EAP provider will not be able to provide statistics to a client stating that over the previous six months, workplace stress dropped by 27 percent and family strife declined by 14 percent. In addition, the confidentiality restrictions associated with employee assistance programs place further limitations on tracking EAP use and effectiveness.

Small business owners looking for information on the effectiveness of their EAP do have other options, however. "Attention to trends in utilization and expenditures by type of service (such as in- or out-patient detoxification, rehabilitation, and aftercare) can help plan sponsors evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their EAP and the efficacy of the vendors providing these services," said Osterweil. "For example, a successful EAP should show a positive influence on expenditures under the employer's health plan. It should also show lessening absenteeism, tardiness, and disability and improving productivity. And, the evaluation process gives plan sponsors an opportunity to design a system that can capture data that will more readily assess the ongoing cost-effectiveness of the program."

Benefits experts also encourage sponsors of employee assistance programs to look at their EAP within the overall context of its total benefits structure. Pension World pointed out that in many instances, employee assistance programs are regarded by workers as being "peripherally attached to the rest of the employee benefits package. This is certainly understandable as the need for employee confidentiality must be preserved, so that a certain degree of arms-length delivery of services is desirable. Because of privacy issues, EAPs may be managed by professional, outside vendors, with services provided at sites away from the workplace." But as much as possible, company sponsors of EAPs should try to integrate their programs with their other efforts to promote wellness for employees and their dependents.

Signs of a Flawed Employee Assistance Program

Employee assistance programs are commonly touted as a valuable cost-management tool, but if the implementation or design of an EAP is flawed, then the purported cost savings of the program will not be realized. Benefits experts counsel small business owners to look out for the following indications that an employee assistance program may need revision:

  • General dissatisfaction with the program expressed by employees
  • Only a small percentage (less than 5 percent) of eligible employees use the program
  • Issues that prompted the initial use of the EAP are not resolved within a reasonable period of time
  • EAP referrals indicate an unwarranted bias toward one type of care or treatment
  • Employees view the EAP with distrust, seeing it as a possible management tool for doling out punishment or justifying termination
  • EAP staff have potential conflicts of interest (for example, a staffer who is found to have financial ties to a provider to whom referrals are made)

All of these warning signs can be addressed, but companies should make sure that they conduct adequate research into the needs and desires of their employees before attempting any sort of shake-up. And when revision of an EAP does occur, employers should take every precaution to ensure that any employees who did benefit from the program's previous incarnation are not left behind.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carney, Karen E. "Choosing an EAP." Inc. July 1994.

Gaipa, Marilyn. "Compliance, Risk Management, and EAPs: How to build the partnership." The Journal of Employee Assistance. January-March 2006.

Gill, Brian W. "Employee Assistance Programs." American Printer. June 1997.

Herlihy, Patricia. "Employee Assistance Programs and Work/Family Programs: Obstacles and Opportunities for Organizational Integration." Compensation & Benefits Management. Spring 1997.

"It's Your Problem Too." Business Week. 28 February 2000.

Osterweil, Jody. "Evaluating and Revising EAPs." Pension World. June 1991.

Reynes, Roberta. "Programs that Aid Troubled Workers." Nation's Business. June 1998.

Tramer, Harriet. "Small Biz Offering EAPs to Preserve Productivity." Crain's Cleveland Business. 25 April 2005.

Wojcik, Joanne. "EAPs Extend Role to Help Employers Recover Too." Business Insurance. 12 September 2005.

                                Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                 updated by Magee, ECDI

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Employee Assistance Programs

EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

The term employee assistance program (EAP) refers to a program that provides business and industry with the means of identifying employees whose job performance is negatively affected by personal or job-related problems. The EAP arranges for structured assistance to solve those problems, with the goal of reestablishing the employee's effective job performance. The services of an EAP may be contracted, or the program may be an employer's own creation, designed to fit the unique needs of a company. EAPs typically provide professional, confidential, no- or low-cost assistance for employees with personal problems.

EAPs help employers by identifying troubled workers, by either supervisory referrals or self-referrals. Each referred employee is assessed, and a plan of action is designed to suit his or her needs. The ability to uncover the employee's primary problem is required. The goal is to enable the employees to work again at peak levels. An effective EAP requires a knowledge of resources available in the community.

HISTORY

No one knows when the first employer offered counseling and social work services to its employees. But in 1917 Macy's, the New York City department store, opened an office specifically devoted to helping employees deal with personal problems. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and Western Electric were also pioneers in the field, but it was not until the years immediately following World War II that a limited form of EAP became relatively common.

In those days, Alcoholics Anonymous was a new organization gaining widespread attention. For the first time, alcohol abuse was perceived by business to be a workplace problem, and many companies started alcoholism programs for their workers. These programs were usually staffed by recovering alcoholics who trained supervisors to spot alcoholics by looking for such symptoms as shaking hands, bloodshot eyes, and alcohol on the breath. These early programs produced gratifying results, but they were severely limited because they identified only late-stage problems. Alcoholics in the early stage whose hands


did not shake and who did not drink on the job did not receive help.

Today, most EAPs pay close attention to the specific needs of clients. For example, until recently few EAPs dealt with gambling-related issues; but now counselors are being trained to deal with gambling addiction and related problems. A number of companies also have EAPs that offer financial and legal referrals to employees with consumer credit or bankruptcy problems and legal concerns. These services are in addition to assistance offered for emotional, family, work, and substance-abuse problems.

Another area that EAPs frequently deal with is critical incident interventionhelping workers handle deaths, suicides, hostage situations, major accidents, and natural disasters, including fires, earthquakes, mudslides, floods, and hurricanes. Employees often need assistance in dealing with the emotional and physical trauma of these natural disasters.

MODERN PROGRAMS

Organizational development, managed care, workers' compensation, child care, and catastrophic disasters are just a few of the issues that are expanding the scope of today's EAPs. The changes going on in corporate America are tremendous. As a result, the role and scope of the company's employee assistance program has evolved with the times. Some EAPs offer workers professional organizational counseling. This service runs the gamut from counseling work-group members who are having problems getting along with one another to counseling survivors of downsizing on how to handle stress.

Managers may have to terminate good employees as well as difficult ones. Besides the emotional effects, there is also a practical side to letting workers go: There is documentation and a procedure to follow. Human resources staff members are stretched to the limit in some cases.

Many EAPs provide disability management services. Companies today want to complement the traditional disability arrangement with a whole-person approach. In many cases workers' self-esteem is tied to their jobs. As workers sit at home recuperating from injuries or disabilities, they may become bored and depressed. In some cases their disabilities may put financial strains on their families. Therefore, there is a need to supplement the medical care a person is receiving with counseling on issues he or she is facing. The goal is to keep the worker connected to the workplace.

Today's EAPs have grown in size and sophistication. In some businesses EAPs are operated through employee associations. Sometimes professional groups or similar businesses and small industries unite to form a consortium. Although all EAPs aim to help both management and employees, there are differences in how they do it. Boiled down to the essentials, these differences come under two headings: who is helped and how that help is provided.

SINGLE-ISSUE PROGRAMS

Single-issue programs aim to help only employees impaired by a specific problem. Their focus is clear, and they are generally small enough to cost the employer relatively little. A disadvantage of single-issue programs is that they may become stigmatized because of the negative connotations of terms such as addiction and alcoholism. Some people may be afraid to use the program for fear of being labeled drunks or addicts. Since the per-person cost of an EAP decreases with the number of people who use it, this stigmatization is an important issue to consider. Furthermore, supervisors tend to look only for symptoms of abuse instead of concentrating on declining job performance.

The greatest weakness of single-issue programs is their lack of preventative power. Late-stage alcoholics and addicts have the highest relapse rate and the least chance for permanent recovery. Single-issue programs tend to find these late-stagers, but recognizing those in the early stages for whom help can be most effective is much more difficult.

BROAD-BRUSH EAPS

Broad-brush EAPs offer help to employees suffering from all kinds of problems, including chemical dependency. For example, a broad-brush program may provide crisis-management services for those whose problems can be dealt with over the short term. Sometimes all that is needed is a chance to talk a problem over with a sympathetic listener. The great advantage of broad-brush programs is their ability to uncover drug and alcohol problems in their early stages. Often early-stagers come to their EAP presenting problems that make no mention of alcohol or drugs. At first clients complain about financial trouble, a stressful marriage, or abuse of problem children. It is only after working with a skilled counselor that the truth is revealed: cocaine bankrupting an executive; a marriage in trouble because the wife drinks and the husband enables her; children acting out because they cannot get the nurturing they need from addicted parents.

One disadvantage of broad-brush programs is that they are usually more expensive than single-issue programs. There are, however, ways to minimize costs by designing a program customized to specialized businesses. Costs can be reduced when multiple businesses form an EAP alliance. In the long run, EAPs can save businesses money by making them more efficient and productive, by reducing accidents, by reducing employee absenteeism/turnover, by raising employee morale and decreasing grievances, and by cutting back on the number of unnecessary insurance claims.

MODES OF SERVICE

Today's EAPs differ from their predecessors in the mode of service they deliver. It would be impossible to describe all variations that exist, but a short description of several of the most common varieties will provide some insight.

Some EAPs are just a hotline. Employees are encouraged to call a particular number and ask for help. The EAP provides the names and numbers of local public service agencies that may be able to address employees' personal problems. Alone, this just barely qualifies as employee assistance. However, a hotline in conjunction with other services may prove helpful in attracting fearful employees for whom anonymity is essential. And hotlines can be extremely beneficial when depression is a serious problem.

Other EAPs amount to no more than a single individual in the personnel department or the medical office who can direct an employee off-site on the basis of his or her problem. This is not much better than the hotline, and employees may not go near the office for fear of being labeled. Employees required to report to this office because of poor performance evaluations and fear of losing their livelihoods may complain about the lack of confidentiality.

A few very large companies have elaborate on-site EAP divisions with full staffs, including doctors and nurses. Or several geographically close companies with similar concerns or products may join together to form an EAP consortium that contracts with a consulting EAP organization to provide services to employees from each site.

Most EAP providers emphasize the confidential nature of their services and will give the employer numerical information only, without divulging names of EAP-assisted employees. Otherwise, many employees would be hesitant, if not totally unwilling, to admit a personal problem for fear that it would jeopardize their job status or chances for promotions.

However, there may be situations in which an employer may need to know certain types of information. For example, when an employee is engaged in dangerous duties, supervisory personnel may need to know general information about the employee's condition for safety reasons. Therefore, the employer's promise of confidentiality and privacy to employees is extremely important. Whatever level of confidentiality the employer establishes must be maintained; notice must be given to employees and consent obtained for variances. Also, it is important that an employer give employees clear warnings that such disclosures are permitted. Specific state privacy laws may affect the availability of such information.

Some EAP programs provide services to groups of employees during a crisis. For example, a team of counselors from an EAP may work with an entire department affected by a violent workplace incident.

EAPS CAN DETER VIOLENCE

Stress at home or on the job, burnout, or relationships that have soured can result in violent acts at work. Experts estimate that more than 100,000 incidents of workplace violence occur annually in the United States. The typical workplace killer is a middle-aged man, most likely a loner frustrated by problems on the job with few personal contacts outside the workplace. One study showed men were responsible for 98 percent of all violence committed at work. The average age was 36, and firearms were used 81 percent of the time. Following workplace homicides, one-fourth of the murderers killed themselves.

Workplace violence, whether it involves harassment, threats, or physical attack, is a serious and growing problem for employers. Lack of attention to the issue can mean lost lives, discontent, and fear among employees, as well as tremendous cost to companies.

Corporations without preventive measures are particularly subject to lawsuits and higher costs. The best way to prevent workplace violence is to have an effective employee assistance program. Other precautions companies can take to prevent violence are establishing clear guidelines on appropriate behavior, screening applicants carefully, training employees to identify warning signs, and setting up procedures for managers to respond to cries for help. Companies also should look closely at the procedures they use when they terminate employees. Perhaps most important is maintaining a healthy work environment. It really boils down to one person's relationship with another and whether or not the environment fosters mutual respect.

EXTERNAL PROVIDERS

A unique feature of employee assistance programs is the dual responsibility that its professionals have toward both the companies they work for and the individual workers in those organizations who require assistance. The special responsibilities toward the organization go beyond those that social workers have toward their agencies because the occupational setting also is a client to which they have service obligations. At times this dual responsibility creates ethical dilemmas for practitioners. The very existence of a well-functioning EAP is a major source of assistance to the organization as a whole, not just the individual clients who receive direct services.

Both managers and employee clients expect staff members of in-house EAPs to be especially adept in matching an employee's needs with resources that provide prompt and effective intervention. The depth and thoroughness of the assessment is a means of increasing the probability that key problems will be identified and prioritized accurately. Failure to meet these expectations can adversely affect the credibility of the EAP. As a result, most EAPs devote a significant part of program resources to locating, evaluating, and updating their network of providers. The referral function is distinct from the procedures governing the internal services. Referring is the process of locating one or more providers external to the employer to supply ongoing services to deal with employee concerns. These external resources may assume responsibility for all of a client's needs or they may be ancillary to the work being done in-house by an EAP counselor.

Most employees are not well informed about treatment programs, community agencies, or even self-help groups. EAPs must educate them about available services, their relative benefits, and how these resources are viewed in the community. In addition, clients often need to be encouraged to assume a consumer orientation regarding referral sources. Having to apply for any kind of help is intimidating, and it is difficult for the uninitiated to recognize appropriate or inappropriate requirements. Clients should be told that if they decide a resource is not acceptable they may return to the EAP for other options.

PERSONAL PROBLEMS

People thrive on things they do well. Often it is their work. A happy, healthy worker is likely to be a productive one. Conversely, personal problems can hamper an employee's performance. Sometimes problems can be alleviated quickly, but often the problems extend over long periods of time. The impact on the employee will vary, but there will usually be noticeable change in behavior and attitude. Personal problems are significant hurdles that every person living in today's complex society will confront in one fashion or another.

Employees' personal problems can have many sources. Most can be categorized into one of the following categories: substance abuse, health related, family related, and financial. Almost every adult will deal with one or more of these problems. It is how individuals deal with these problems, and the level of support they receive in addressing the issue, that will determine the intensity of the problem's impact.

see also Employee Benefits

bibliography

Browning, Darrell (1994). "Stamping Out Violence." Human Resources Executive, 2225.

Patrick J. Highland

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Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored benefit programs designed to improve productivity by helping employees to identify and resolve personal concerns. Most EAPs employ mental health professionals (usually on a contract basis) to provide confidential counseling and referral services to workers who are experiencing personal problems that interfere with their work attendance or productivity. For example, an EAP might help employees to resolve problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, emotional distress, child or elder care issues, anxiety, marital or family relationship concerns, emotional distress, depression, or financial difficulties. Employees may seek help on a voluntary, confidential basis, or may be referred by a supervisor who suspects that declining job performance is being caused by personal problems.

WELLNESS PROGRAMS

EAPs are often instituted as part of an employee wellness program. Employee wellness is a relatively new human resource management focus that seeks to eliminate certain debilitating health problems (e.g., cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, hypertension) that can be caused by poor lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, obesity, stress). Stress, for instance, is being

called the fastest-growing occupational disease in the United States by some experts. Excessive amounts of stress can have debilitating health effects, leading to problems like ulcers, colitis, hypertension, headaches, lower back pain, and cardiac conditions. Stressed workers may perform poorly, quit their jobs, suffer low morale, generate conflicts among coworkers, miss work, or exhibit indifference toward coworkers and customers. These stress-induced outcomes cost U.S. businesses somewhere between $150 and $300 billion per year.

Lifestyle-related health problems have become quite prevalent: cancer, heart, and respiratory illnesses alone account for 55.5 percent of all hospital claims, and they can cause workplace problems such as absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, and increased medical costs. For instance, people who have high blood pressure are 68 percent more likely than others to have medical claims of more than $5,000 per year, and the cost of medical claims for smokers is 18 percent higher than it is for nonsmokers.

To combat these problems, employee wellness programs provide employees with physical fitness facilities, on-site health screenings, and programs to help them quit smoking, manage stress, and improve nutritional habits. The employee wellness program at Apple Computer offers fitness facilities, health education, and preventative medicine that includes:

  • A smoking cessation program.
  • Seminars on nutrition and weight management.
  • Health assessments that measure blood pressure and resting pulse.
  • Fitness evaluations that assess cardiopulmonary fitness level, strength, flexibility, body composition, and nutritional status.
  • Medical examinations that include physical exams and exercise strength tests to determine cardiovascular fitness.

OTHER FUNCTIONS OF EAPs

EAPs also play an important role in the prevention of (and intervention in) workplace violence incidents. Workplace violence and crisis intervention have received increased emphasis in EAPs since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Not only can counselors help employees to deal with the emotional impact of crises, they also can provide ongoing preparedness training for companies.

Many EAPs also provide management consultation services. In such cases, a supervisor may request assistance in dealing with a problem employee. EAP counselors might help the supervisor develop initiatives to change the employee's disruptive behavior. Having an EAP sends a message to employees that the employer cares, noted Kevin M. Quinley in his 2003 article in Compensation and Benefits Report. Just knowing that can be a powerful incentive and hasten an employee's desire to return to work.

COST-EFFECTIVENESS

Companies that implement EAPs have documented improvements in worker health, functioning, productivity, and performance. They also have seen significant reductions in absenteeism, medical-benefits costs, disability and worker's compensation claims, workplace accidents, and employee turnover. Surveys indicate that between 50 and 80 percent of large companies offer EAPs. Divorce, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, care-giving for a disabled relative, and uncontrolled gambling can all cause employee disabilities and absences that exact a high workplace toll, wrote Quinley. Addressing these problemseven if they are rooted in nonoccupational causescan boost employee productivity and curb disability costs.

Employee wellness programs can be both effective for employees and cost-effective for employers. Research indicates that participation in a wellness program increases productivity and reduces both absenteeism and turnover. A study conducted at Mesa Petroleum, for example, found that the productivity difference between participants and non-participants amounted to $700,000 in the program's first year and $1.3 million in the second.

The potential payoff of an EAP is evidenced by a study which found that every dollar spent on an EAP returned an estimated three to five dollars to the company in reduced absenteeism and greater productivity. Other studies have noted that even very small reductions in risk factors are enough to make wellness initiatives pay off. Many employers can expect to recover their costs with only a 0.2 percent reduction in risk factors, and nearly all employers could do so with only a 1 percent reduction. A 20042005 study funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that considered specific companies, found that Union Pacific would have to achieve a 0.49 percent reduction in risk factors for a wellness program to pay for itself, while Motorola's break-even point was 0.67 percent. The number for Dow Chemical was even lowera mere 0.17 percent. In Dow's case, a 1 percent reduction would yield a return on investment of 300 percentthat is, a return of three dollars for every one dollar spent. For a company with 26,000 employees, that translates to $50 million over five years.

OBSTACLES

Wellness programs can be relatively inexpensive and cost effective, but if they are to work most effectively, they must successfully enlist high-risk individualsthose in greatest need of the program. Unfortunately, most employees who participate in wellness programs exhibit fewer risk factors to

begin with, while employees at high-risk tend to stay away. Because at-risk individuals do not seek help, many employee wellness programs fail to meet their objectives. As human-resources consultant Bob Brady noted in HR Daily Advisor in 2007, people with the most severe problems have little interest in lifestyle changes, and even those that are interested find making the changes very difficult.

Employers must, then, find some way to motivate high-risk individuals to participate. Some companies offer incentives such as cash bonuses to individuals who participate, while others impose certain penalties on non-participants. Examples of penalties include higher insurance premiums and deductibles. Other motivational approaches include involving family, bringing initiatives directly to employees in their workplaces, and focusing on high-level management who can model best practices for their employees.

Even with the potential obstacles, human resource managers recognize that wellness programs not only pay their own way, they can be extremely effective tools for improving the workplace, employee morale, productivity, and profits.

SEE ALSO Human Resource Management; Safety in the Workplace; Stress

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Attridge, Mark, Tom Amaral, and Mark Hyde. Completing the Business Case for EAPs: Research on EAP Organizational Services Shows They Save Money and Create Opportunities to Participate in Management Initiatives and Strategic Planning. Journal of Employee Assistance 33, no. 3 (August 2003): 23.

Brady, Bob. Workplace Wellness Programs: Can They Really Pay a 300% Return on Investment? HR Daily Advisor 4 May 2007. Available from: http://www.hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/archive/2007/05/04/Workplace_employee_wellness_programs_return_on_investment.aspx.

Erfurt, J.C., A. Foote, and M.A. Heirich. The Cost-Effectiveness of Worksite Wellness Programs for Hypertension Control, Weight Loss, Smoking Cessation, and Exercise. Personnel Psychology 45, no. 1 (1992): 527.

Kinder, Andrew, Rick Hughes, and Cary L. Cooper. Employee Well-being Support: A Workplace Resource. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

Kleiman, Lawrence S. Human Resource Management: A Managerial Tool for Competitive Advantage. 4th ed. Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing, 2006.

Mannion, Lawrence P. Employee Assistance Programs: What Works and What Doesn't. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

Quinley, Kevin M. EAPs: A Benefit That Can Trim Your Disability and Absenteeism Costs. Compensation & Benefits Report 17, no. 2 (February 2003): 6.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Occupational Health Service. Documenting the Value of Employee Assistance Programs. Available from: http://www.foh.dhhs.gov

Van Den Bergh, Nan. Emerging Trends for EAPs in the 21st Century. New York: Haworth Press, 2000.

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