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.