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Employee assistance programs

Employee Assistance Programs

This being the day of the great downsize many managers are hurrying to

make the cut's and in doing so closely examining their Employee-Assistance

Programs for effectiveness. What are they? How do they help? How do they work?

Are they worth the hassle?

What are they?

By definition employee-assistance programs (EAP's) give a business the

means for identifying employees whose job performance is negatively affected by

personal problems. EAP's should arrange for structured assistance to solve

those problems with the goal of reestablishing the employee's job performance.

Three ways they help the employer and the employee:

First, EAP's should help in identifying a troubled worker. The two

largest problems in the workplace today are drug/alcohol abuse and the stressful

effects of downsizing. Many researchers today believe that drug/alcohol abuse

is responsible for most modern-day EAP's.

According to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance, 25

percent of all hospitalized patients have alcohol related problems. Alcohol is

involved in 47 percent of all industrial accidents and half of all auto

fatalities. The cost totals 86 billion dollars per year due to decreased

productivity, treatment programs, accidents, crime and law enforcement.

Although it is most costly at the top alcoholism/drug abuse affects

employees at every level of an organization. One company found that in the

pervious five years each worker with an alcohol/drug related problem missed 113

days of work and filed $23,000 more in medical claims than the average employee.

However, recovered alcohol/drug abusers will frequently credit their EAP for

literally saving their lives. By reclaiming highly experienced employees the

company also can recover some of their losses.

One of the most painful aspects of a human resource professional's job

is downsizing and it probably won't be going away soon. Layoffs affected 1.1

million workers in 1995 and are not expected to improve. EAP's are a resource

that can often help managers smooth the transition for outgoing employees and

for those who remain. When a company severs its ties with an employee, the

emotional reaction can be intense. Most laid-off workers will react with anger

then fade into denial and finally acceptance. This emotional roller coaster is

not unlike those experienced by people diagnosed with a serious illness. They

generally make the EAP available for up to six months after termination. This

"after termination counseling" will help a company by removing the possible

threat of retaliation in the form of sabotage or bad mouthing the company in the

public's eye (which can be as damaging as sabotage).

Second, through orientation and job leverage the EAP should motivate the

employee to get the help they need. The job leverage comes from the Quality

Assurance in Drug Testing Act, SEC. 2707.Employer Practices which says: "Nothing

in this title shall be construed to prohibit an employer from taking action

necessary, up to and including termination, in the case of an applicant or

employee who tests positive for drugs or who refuses to take a drug test

authorized under this title." This act has not yet passed but it will provide

the perfect motivation and release the employer from any lawsuits that might

come about from employees who think they have the right to do drugs.

The purpose of orientation is to educate employees about EAP policies,

procedures and services. Although it's not financially practical to spend an

enormous amount of time on this topic, it is important that an organized effort

be made to inform all employees of what the EAP is, How it works and for whom it

is intended. Obviously, having a program is wasteful if employees fail to use

it. Orientation should be done in a series of informal discussions like the

half hour before the end of the work day. Combining orientation with written

hand outs, posters and pay envelope enclosures may be most effective method.

Third, the EAP should help the troubled employee in getting help. This

requires the people involved in the EAP to be extremely knowledgeable of the

resources available in the community. EAP's come in many shapes and sizes

generally dependant on the size of the company. Some EAP's are simply a hotline

in which employees are encouraged to call a particular number and ask for help.

The person on the other end will provide names and numbers of local public

service agencies. This is considered to be an external program and is very

effective due to its confidentiality, however, the biggest problem is trying to

get the person to pick up the phone.

The most adaptable model for an EAP is one in which posters, cards,

brochures, supervisors and trained volunteers refer employees to an off site

councilor. Using this "broad approach" a company can probably reduce the cost

and provide the best help their employees can find. Supervisor interaction and

education on the services available are the keys to a successful EAP. Are they

worth the hassle?

Although EAP's are here to stay and not many studies are being done to

show their worth or effectiveness. Most evaluation studies have assumed that a

"balance" exists between the activities in the workplace and activities in the

treatment facilities. This assumption is only valid for the EAP's of the 1970's

that focused almost entirely on alcoholism. The major difference between the

early programs and the modern is in the training of the supervisor. In the

early programs they trained supervisors to identify problem drinkers based on

their symptoms and to refer them to the company's medical department. Today,

EAP's train supervisors to manage the problems affecting job performance and to

refer poorly performing employees to the EAP for diagnosis and treatment of the

"underlying" personal problems. This assumption leads to studies being purely

derived from the outcome and generally state that employees who use the program

show an increase in job performance.

A most recent study surveyed 508 human-resource professionals, used

several statistics that were not based on the "balance." Released in April of

1995 the study shows that replacing workers who have behavioral health problems

or not treating them will cost companies much more than it costs to finance the

treatment. On the average it costs more that $7,000 to replace one salaried

worker, $10,000 for a mid-level employee and $40,000 for a senior executive.

For every dollar invested in an EAP, a loss of $5 to $7 is avoided. Time missed

from work will decrease by 66%, and about 12 percent of employees at one time or

another will use the program if it is available. Employees who were closely

involved with their companies EAP found them to be effective and said the

program resulted in a better work attitude and increased lob performance.

Since the beginning of time people have been trying to help people.

This idea never occurred to the corporations until alcohol and drug abuse began

to run wild during the Industrial Revolution. Large companies were formed and

people turned to alcohol for a release. The big companies began to see the

decrease in productivity and that meant lost money. As in any company the true

goal is to make money and only recently in the fields of Human Resource

Management with the study of behavioral sciences have corporations decided to

address employees as people. Believing employee behavior is not only due to

human relationships but due to changes in the organization too. Things like

Downsizing and changes in technology will influence employee's behavior in

mostly negative ways. The corporation is no longer a force that cannot be


EAP's are a very important part of the new world company. They are an

effective and worthwhile ventures on any scale. Every company from three to

3,000 employees needs to have some sort of EAP. With the overwhelming self-

serving attitudes people have today getting a person to commit him/herself to

the company is almost impossible unless they feel as though the company has

committed its self to them. A well designed and maintained EAP will do just


Like anything there are some parts of an EAP that are most important.

No matter how well thought through the best EAP could fail and that is what must

be avoided. Sinking money into a program that will not give any sort of payback

is wasteful. This being the time of the Downsize when companies are trying to

get the most bang for the buck you must be careful not to cut your EAP to the

bare minimum, don't get caught up in the statistics. The only way to truly tell

if you have an effective program is to count the uses. If the program is being

used then the chances are extremely good that it is working. EAP's are not self

installing /self running programs. As supervisors we must keep our ears open to

new ideas and suggestions, constantly trying to improve the system. This is why

having dedicated personnel or good volunteers is so important.

In conclusion Employee Assistance Programs are definitely worth the

hassle. There is overwhelming evidence supporting the need for these programs

in every company. We must strive to help our employees help themselves as much

as possible. Happy employees' and a cohesive work group are the most important

quality's a business could possibly have. If you don't think it is working then

fix it. Cutting back on an EAP is the key to your businesses' end.

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