Is Your Lifeline Ready?

An unappreciated, underused resource for employers was thrust into the limelight recently when the National Business Group on Health released "An Employer's Guide to Employee Assistance Programs" at a Washington, D.C., news conference. Two years of studying best practices and evidencebased approaches to the design and delivery of effective employee assistance programs (EAPs) contributed to the guide. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funded the research, which was conducted by NBGH's Employee Assistance Workgroup, a 27-member committee of EAP, behavioral, and mental health services experts.

We typically think EAPs refer an employee for drug or alcohol treatment or counseling, but the workgroup concluded their value is far greater. They improve work teams' performance, manage stress, reduce accidents and absenteeism, lower turnover and health costs, lessen violence, support emergency preparedness, and smooth workers' adjustment to layoffs, plant closures, and other workplace changes. With these in mind, the workgroup wrote this Value Proposition for EAP:

An EAP that is aligned with organizational values and vision will measurably enhance business operations, the overall employee experience, and the community perceptions of the company. A well-run EAP will provide a positive return on investment.

"I think most large employers have EAPs. They know their value, but they haven't dealt with them as rigorously as they should. They don't promote them as well as they should. What you always want to make sure of is that people know about the resources," NBGH President Helen Darling told me.

Particularly now, when workers' stress is very high and layoffs are rising, EAPs are a lifeline in the storm. The guide, available at www.businessgrouphealth.org, tells employers how to use them to their full potential. (The guide cites studies that found providing EAP services avoided work loss in 60 percent of cases, with an average savings of 17 hours per case. The average productivity gain was 43 percent.)

Darling agreed employee assistance is "really underappreciated. All of the employee assistance professionals talk about how the demand for their services has soared," she said.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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