Employee Assistance Programs

AuthorLawrence Kleiman, Laurie Hillstrom

Page 221

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored benefit programs designed to improve productivity by helping employees to identify and resolve personal concerns. Most EAPs employ mental health professionals (usually on a contract basis) to provide confidential counseling and referral services to workers who are experiencing personal problems that interfere with their work attendance or productivity. For example, an EAP might help employees to resolve problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, emotional distress, child or elder care issues, anxiety, marital or family relationship concerns, emotional distress, depression, or financial difficulties. Employees may seek help on a voluntary, confidential basis, or may be referred by a supervisor who suspects that declining job performance is being caused by personal problems.

Companies that implement EAPs have documented improvements in worker health, functioning, productivity, and performance. They also have seen significant reductions in absenteeism, medical benefits costs, disability and worker's compensation claims, workplace accidents, and employee turnover. Surveys indicate that between 50 and 80 percent of large companies offer EAPs. The potential payoff of an EAP is evidenced by a study which found that every dollar spent on an EAP returned an estimated $3-$5 to the company in reduced absenteeism and greater productivity. "Divorce, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, care-giving for a disabled relative, and uncontrolled gambling can all cause employee disabilities and absences that exact a high workplace toll," wrote Kevin M. Quinley in Compensation and Benefits Report. "Addressing these problems—even if they are rooted in nonoccupational causes—can boost employee productivity and curb disability costs" (2003).


EAPs are often instituted as part of an employee wellness program. Employee wellness is a relatively new human resource management focus that seeks to eliminate certain debilitating health problems (e.g., cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, hypertension) that can be caused by poor lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, obesity, stress). Stress, for instance, is being called the fastest-growing occupational disease in the United States by some experts. Excessive amounts of stress can have debilitating health effects...

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