Building Efficiency with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Published on 2014-02-20

Source: gruntzooki @ Flickr
PEOPLE DON’T LEAVE THEIR PROBLEMS at home when they walk into the office, and more often than not, there is no clear boundary between work and life. But thankfully the responsibility of maintaining a work-life balance no longer falls only onto the shoulders of the employee, for today the best-in-class companies know that to build efficient organisations and get the best out of their talent, then they need to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The earliest programs were aimed at combating the massive alcohol problem that existed in American industry.[/quote] The origin of the first Employee Assistance Programs is nothing if not bizarre by today’s standards. The earliest programs were aimed at combating the massive alcohol problem that existed in American industry. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was commonplace for employers to supply employees with alcohol during working hours. In its height, practically all workers in all occupations drank on the job. However, from the 1890s onward a change of attitude began to spread, and by the 1940s the first work-based programs had been established to deal with the alcohol problem. Companies such as DuPont and Kodak were two of the first companies to actively to run programs to sober up employees, both in the workplace and in the home. Today, alcohol abuse is only one issue that EAPs tackle. And these programs are not necessarily restricted to the employee. Best-in-class companies are providing EAPs for workers and their families, because these companies understand that problems do travel from the home to the office.
So, what if your company doesn’t currently have an employee assistance program? Here are five simple steps to get the best out of your employees:
[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]In developing an EAP, it’s important to see the employee as a whole person.[/quote]Step 1 – See the Big Picture
In developing an EAP, it’s important to see the employee as a whole person. Relationships outside the workplace can impact performance, and as a result, involving family members can lead to greater results. For this reason, communication about the launch of an EAP should extend to both the workplace and home. Step 2 – Define your Goals Decide what the business hopes to accomplish by offering an EAP and how employees will access the services. Employee Assistance Programs can include assistance with:

1. Substance abuse,
2. Emotional distress,
3. Major life events, including births, accidents and deaths,
4. Health care concerns,
5. Financial or non-work-related legal concerns,
6. Family/personal relationship issues,
7. Work relationship issues, and
8. Concerns about ageing parents.

Management must support the formation of a policy and in most cases provide funding to allow employees to seek professional counseling and treatment. Effective EAPs are supported by more tolerant and progressive policies, which state something like the following:

“Leave of absence is permitted for employees with personal problems who wish to seek help for their problems without fear of a salary reduction or termination of employment.”

Step 3 – Build the EAP Team and Coaching Content
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]Coaching content, which should include stress management and problem solving techniques[/quote] Build the EAP team that will provide the service. Typically the human resources department will be the catalyst, but other department heads can be involved. Management needs to provide the budget to be able to hire one person or compensate an existing employee for the extra workload. Coaching content, which should include stress management and problem solving techniques, should be developed or purchased, and then trained to the EAP team.
Step 4 – Promote
Promote the EAP via internal newsletters, the company website and formal presentations. An EAP is part of a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and can therefore positively affect an employer’s brand. Because of this, recruitment staff should be trained on the details of an EAP, since it is likely to be a useful selling tool.
Step 5 – Connect to Employees
Set aside appointment times within the human resources department to speak individually with employees about their questions and to refer these individuals to the program so they may make any necessary appointments with specialists and begin accessing services. There should also be a certain amount of anonymity for staff to contact the EAP managers, and confidentiality is a must. If management encourages employees to voluntarily seek assistance through an EAP, then self referrals will be commonplace. But for that to happen, there must be an overwhelming sense of trust within employees and their line managers. This is not always the case, and much of the failures of EAPs are linked to poor leadership fundamentals. However, when successfully rolled out, in a company culture that is supportive, EAPs have been linked to lower medical costs for employers, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and higher employer productivity and overall business efficiency.