There’s a new addition to the realm of workplace health and safety: wellness.
Wellness is not specifically geared to preventing accidents or creating a safe work environment. Rather, it’s about supporting the well-being of employees in both their personal and professional lives.
A wide variety of things can affect an employee's work performance, from mental health and relationships to stress caused by work and financial struggles. Employee assistance programs give employers a way to help their teams handle the challenges of life – before they have a noticeable impact at work (find out Why Work/Life Balance Is a Workplace Safety Issue).
What Is an Employee Assistance Program?
An employee assistance program (EAP) is an employment benefit offered at no cost to employees. It provides support to help resolve or manage problems that can interfere with an employee’s ability to perform his or her work (learn about Managing Employee Burnout to Reduce Deadly Accidents).
EAPs can help employees deal with issues like:
- Serious health problems
- Professional or marital relationship discord
- Out-of-control children
- Overwhelming student debt
- Excessive stress
For example, DCM's EAP, provided through Solareh, offers a range of services. Not only does it offer counseling for issues like mental health and substance abuse, but it also provides telephone assistance for a variety of challenges, including financial planning, eldercare, and family law issues.
An EAP is not the same as health insurance, and it cannot be used for financial support. However, like health insurance, many employee assistance programs are made available to help the spouse or partner of the employee, too.
It’s important to note that an EAP is a third-party service, which takes the burden off the employer and allows employees to access diverse resources far beyond what any one employer could reasonably offer.
Why EAPs Are Important
The 2,500 counselors at Morneau Shepell Ltd. – one of the largest employee assistance programs in Canada – field about 600,000 calls every year. Their counselors are available day and night to manage concerns across 35 core issues and in 146 languages.
About 60 percent of the calls fall into the top five areas:
- Relationship issues
- Personal stress
- Workplace stress
Non-urgent requests, which make up 97 percent of the calls, may be addressed through in-person, telephone, video, or online group sessions.
Clearly, there is a demand for these services, and employers who offer them will be rewarded with a happier and more productive workforce and, ultimately, economic improvements to the business.
5 Ways EAPs Can Benefit Your Business
Estimates suggest that about 20 percent of the working population has issues that are serious enough to interfere with workplace performance.
In fact, a study commissioned by Arete Human Resources found that work performance problems related to mental health alone are associated with a projected loss of $198 billion for Canadian businesses over the course of the next 30 years.
EAPs help tackle these problems early on, preventing significant issues from impacting performance, productivity, and morale. Here’s what an employee assistance program can do for your business.
1. Reduce Costs Related to Poor Performance
The Arete-commissioned study, Investigating the global value of a Canadian Employee Assistance Program, found that 66 percent of participants had performance issues prior to EAP-assistance, resulting in an average loss of $1,603 in the last four weeks and $13,000 annually for employers.
After EAP use, the study noted a 74 percent reduction in employer costs related to poor work performance – savings of more than $9,000 each year.
2. Improve Productivity
When productivity suffers, your business suffers. Researchers found that three quarters of employees showed a significant increase in work productivity after accessing EAP services. This doesn’t just help boost the company’s bottom line, but can also help strengthen morale in the workplace.
3. Strengthen Workplace Mental Health
Individual mental health has an impact on workplace mental health, so it’s in the company’s best interest to ensure employees feel that they’re in a position to handle the difficulties life throws at them.
EAP providers emphasize that workers don’t necessarily need to have a “problem” to use an EAP – it’s there to help make their lives easier. Having this (confidential) support system to lean on can help mitigate the toll that stressful situations take on employee mental health.
4. Reduce Absenteeism
Encouraging employees to make use of an EAP can help reduce the number of sick days taken, and may even save companies money in health insurance over the long run. The services that EAPs include can help employees ward off stress-related illnesses, and some even offer access to professionals like health coaches. This translates to fewer doctor visits and fewer days off work to deal with medical issues.
5. Attract Top Talent
This is perhaps one of the more unexpected benefits of an EAP. About 80 percent of Canadian businesses have one, and it has come to be seen as a symbol of how much an employer cares for its employees.
While offering an EAP as part of your employee benefits may or may not make your company more attractive to candidates that you are wooing, not offering one could certainly deter them.
Ensuring Your Employees Know
An EAP is, of course, only beneficial to employees who know they have access to it. Particularly if it’s a new service, it’s important to be clear about what it offers, how it may be helpful, and how to access it. Hold learning sessions for workers, distribute an EAP info sheet, and put up posters that give them a comprehensive overview of the program.
It’s also a good idea to emphasize the fact that EAP providers keep all personal information strictly confidential. While employers may know when employees have participated in the EAP, all other information is private and never disclosed. Understanding this can offer comfort to workers who may be hesitant to make use of an employer benefit for sensitive issues, like mental health.
An employee assistance program is intended to ensure that employees can manage their daily lives while remaining productive, even in the midst of challenging circumstances or experiences. And while it’s certainly a benefit for the workers, there is clear research to suggest that it’s equally beneficial for employers.
The bottom line? Including an EAP as part of a competitive benefits package makes good sense, both from a business point of view and a human one.