EAP Value

by Bruce Witzky - Date: 2010-11-10 - Word Count: 610 Share This!

Life would be simpler if we could set aside our personal issues and emotional baggage when the workday starts. We could go about our business without a second thought, work at a high level and then retrieve our stuff on the way out the door. Nice to think about, but pure fiction. The reality is our minds can be cluttered, our mood downcast, our bodies weak from the moment we wake up and realize another day is upon us. Those feelings don't go away when we open for business - take the first phone call, open up e-mail or start making deliveries.

Aside from the toll physical and emotional conditions take on individuals, they also have a profound impact on their employers. Mental illness and substance abuse disorders account for 217 million lost workdays annually in the United States, amounting to $17 billion in fixed costs to employers, according to the National Business Group on Health. Indirect costs escalate to $79-$105 billion per year.

Those staggering figures point to the critical need for employee assistance programs. EAPs are typically part of an employer-sponsored insurance plan and are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and well-being. EAPs generally include assessment, short-term counseling and referral services for individuals. "The first EAPs were designed to help employees with substance abuse issues," said Arlene Darick, an employee assistance professional, in an interview with The Journal of Employee Assistance. "These days, there's much more emphasis on prevention, health, wellness and the treatment of the whole person, and on 'life management' services such as financial, legal and concierge-type services. EAP providers are looking more and more broadly at ways they can help people become more balanced and effective, with the end goal of improving workplace productivity."

Typical distractions or impediments that individuals face include personal and relationship issues, health concerns, job-related stress, harassment, underemployment, substance abuse, and financial and legal issues. An estimated 24.3 million people aged 18 and older - approximately 10 percent of the U.S. adult population - experienced serious psychological distress in the past year, but fewer than half of them received any mental health services, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Furthermore, the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 10-15 percent of employees have severe personal problems, and that the work performance of these employees is at least 35 percent below normal.

A quality EAP will offer access to a variety of treatment options and resources for virtually any type of problems that a person might face, making it arguably the single most effective productivity enhancer that an organization could invest in. EAPs can lead to cost savings through lower absenteeism, savings in worker's compensation claims, reduced health care costs, decreased use of medical and insurance benefits, fewer accidents, a reduction in grievances and arbitrations, and lower employee replacement costs. Experts believe EAPs can have greater value. "We must broaden our vision," Chet Taranowski writes in The Journal of Employee Assistance. "By advocating for a more civil, meaningful, and, consequently, more successful workplace, we have an opportunity for leadership in promoting the concept of a positive workplace." John Burke, an employee assistance services consultant, echoes the "positive workplace" theme in an interview with The Journal of Employee Assistance: "By advocating for worker well-being, employee assistance professionals have the potential to greatly benefit all workers and take EAPs far beyond our essential work with 'troubled employees' alone. By promoting a more positive workplace, we can potentially prevent stress that may trigger dysfunction in vulnerable individuals. Better yet, we can further lead our client organizations toward the goal of becoming more psychologically habitable environments."

B. Touby Witzky is a Corporate Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer in Franklin, TN. To help companies promote wellness in their workforce Touby draws on 12+ years of C-suite hospital management experience and a 30+ year passion and study of diet, exercise and fitness.n
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