When personal problems occur, it is not always possible for employees to leave their troubles at the door. Domestic hardships, the death of a family member, mental or physical health issues, financial concerns, substance abuse, or severe work-related stress can interfere with an employee’s ability to perform effectively on the job. Recognizing that otherwise dedicated and productive employees can often overcome these problems with some professional help, a growing number of companies are adding employee assistance programs (EAPs) to their benefit packages.
EAPs offer confidential access to a range of social services designed to help employees cope with a variety of challenges. EAP vendors generally provide their business clients with quick and easy access to counseling services for a set, per-employee monthly fee. After contracting with an EAP provider, employers give their employees a free, confidential hotline number they can call to talk to a professional counselor. The counselor helps the employee to develop a plan to cope, which may include obtaining additional services, such as psychiatric or legal assistance, smoking cessation or weight loss programs, financial advice, substance abuse counseling, etc.
Many EAPs have staff psychologists who are available to meet with employees in person to discuss their concerns in greater depth, or instructors available to conduct training sessions on stress management, weight control, or other pertinent issues at the worksite. Some EAPs also offer employees assistance in obtaining back-up or permanent care arrangements for children or elderly family members.
Compared with other types of benefits, EAPs may be relatively inexpensive. Most EAP vendors allow employers to select the type and level of services best suited to the needs of their workforce. When weighing the options, it is important for employers to verify that the EAP vendor employs licensed, professional counselors and that the firm is capable of delivering the necessary services locally and in a timely manner. Once an EAP provider has been selected, informational materials about the program are distributed to all managers and employees, and a representative of the EAP provider may be invited to conduct an orientation session with employees explaining in greater detail how the program works.
With an EAP, employees have the opportunity to receive help for coping with their personal challenges. When managers notice that an employee is struggling, recommending that the employee call the EAP hotline may be more appropriate than disciplining an otherwise valuable member of the workforce.