Today’s workforce is faced with increasing responsibilities stemming from all directions — getting the kids off to day care on time, resolving a dispute with a significant other or spouse, managing finances, trying to maintain a healthy weight and diet, among many others — all while trying to stay productive and engaged at work. Thankfully, more and more employers are recognizing that employees are only human. In fact, approximately 88% of Fortune 500 companies have employee assistance programs (EAPs).

The Employee Assistance Trade Association (EASNA) defines EAPs as “an employer-sponsored service designed for personal or family problems, including mental health, substance abuse, various addictions, marital problems, parenting problems, emotional problems, or financial or legal concerns.” From helping employees handle menial tasks, like finding the best place to get an oil change, to providing them with critical resources, such as counseling sessions for an untreated mental illness, the fundamental goal of EAPs is to make employees’ lives — in all aspects — more manageable.

According to “The American Productivity Audit,” a year-long telephone survey of almost 29,000 working adults, the annual cost of health-related “lost productive time” in the U.S. is over $200 billion per year. This number includes both absences from work as well as “presenteeism” (“health-related reduced performance” while at work). Acting as a completely free and confidential resource for employees, EAPs are working to change that.

As Laura Jacobson, clinical director at CompEAP, says, “There are a couple of ways EAPs are able to help companies be successful, and one is through counseling and other services. We’re also able to take the everyday tasks that employees may find themselves taking time to do, such as finding good child care, identifying good elder care for a parent [or] trying to figure out who to talk to about a landlord dispute. These are all things employees may be thinking about during the day that we can help source for them. So, it frees them up to be focusing on their responsibilities at work.”

Increasing Access to Mental Health Services

While offering a comprehensive range of services, from substance abuse counseling to individualized nutrition plans, Jacobson says that organizations most commonly use EAPs for mental health counseling services.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that one in almost every seven people experience mental health problems in the workplace. Unfortunately, many employees do not have access to the resources they need in order to effectively manage a mental illness, which can lead to an increase in both absenteeism and presenteeism. One way leaders can help support employees’ mental health is by offering mental health days, which can help with recovery and managing job stress.

Stacey Engle, president of global leadership development and training company Fierce Conversations, reports, “In a healthy culture there is no shame in employees recognizing when they need a break and asking for one. This starts at the top — when a team leader shows support, or even takes these days themselves, understanding becomes contagious and trust grows.”

Working alongside leadership support, EAPs offer a variety of counseling services for employees seeking help, “whether that’s individual counseling or counseling with a family member, or counseling in the form of an EAP clinician going on site and running workshops or trainings that meet the clinical needs of employees,” Jacobson says.

Clearly, when an employee is faced with untreated mental health issues, family problems or any other personal struggle, it can be difficult to stay productive and engaged on the job. EAPs can be a valuable resource for employees looking for relief in order to increase job performance.

How Training Professionals Can Support EAP Services

Even the most comprehensive of EAPs will not fulfill their purpose if employees don’t know what services are available to them or how to access them.

From regularly reminding employees about the EAP and its specific services to delivering training sessions for managers on key warning signs to look out for in employees, training professionals play a vital role in ensuring that employees who need assistance use EAPs.

Working with EAPs also helps advance learning and development through education on a wide range of issues affecting today’s workforce. “Historically, there’s been a very long history of training professionals’ being used by employee assistance programs to deliver programs to employees and companies,” says Marina London, director of communications at the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA). “So, it really behooves the training professional to connect to EAPs and find out more about EAPs, because there’s an opportunity there for work.”

How Leaders Benefit from EAPs

Supporting EAPs not only helps employees do their jobs better, but it also helps managers lead more effectively. For example, London explains that if an employee is consistently late to work, it could be due to a personal issue his or her manager is unaware of. In this case, managers can suggest the employee use the EAP to help resolve any issues that are causing him or her to be late (such as unreliable child care or elder care).

If necessary, managers can make mandatory referrals to the EAP for employees who are struggling to perform or whose safety is at risk. This approach is most common in work environments where decreased performance, productivity and/or engagement can result in a safety hazard (e.g., organizations in the manufacturing, aviation or health care industries). Most of the time, however, managers will simply remind employees of the EAP when they see a decline in performance or witness concerning behavioral changes.

After team members receive the resources they need in order to be fully productive and engaged on the job, they are better positioned to help their team achieve its goals.

EAPs and the Bottom Line

According to a study published by EASNA, EAPs can help organizations save money in the form of reduced medical disability and workers’ compensation claims and reduce indirect business costs related to low performance. The study also found that the average return on investment is $3 or more for every $1 invested in the EAP.

While the monetary value of EAPs is clear, perhaps most prominently, EAPs help improve business results by showing employees that they are valued. “The message to employees is that they are important and that the organization cares about their well-being, and I think that then translates into individuals’ being more engaged and wanting to contribute to the business’ success,” Jacobson says.

In the end, EAPs show employees that their organization cares about their health, happiness and individual success. As a result, with the help of ongoing support and collaboration from training professionals, employees are more likely to be productive, engaged and passionate about helping their organization succeed as well.

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