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Get the Most Out of Employee Assistance

July 2, 1999
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Today, although over 80% of Fortune 500 corporations offer Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services to their employees, the utilization of the programs in a given year varies enormously, ranging anywhere from zero to twenty-five percent. Because most EAP's are reimbursed on a per capita basis, rather than how often employees actually use the services, it is in the company’s own financial interest to encourage utilization.

How is utilization encouraged? There are three ways.

  • Top down support. It helps when senior managers "normalize" the need to seek help either by using the program themselves or referring a staff member to it.
  • Linkage with Human Resources. The relationship between the EAP and Human Resources is critical. Ideally, there should be a trusting relationship where EAP is brought in not only to help the personal component of performance problems, but also to help with the emotional impact of any organizational change—i.e. mergers and acquisitions, re-organization, change in leadership, etc.
  • Implementation and promotion. A typical EAP implementation involves training all the managers about problem identification and referral, and then orienting all employees about the benefits of the program. To promote the service, most EAPs use a variety of marketing methods including lunchtime seminars about family and wellness issues, e-mail information and paycheck stuffers. The support of Human Resources is critical in supporting the EAP’s internal marketing efforts.

Statistics and Specifics
What is the cost benefit of an employee assistance program? Several national studies have demonstrated that EAPs provide a payback of four to seven dollars for every dollar invested. For example, McDonnell Douglas’ EAP showed a 4 to 1 saving derived from reduced medical claims and lowered absenteeism. General Motor demonstrated a 40% decrease in lost time, a 60% decrease in sickness and accident benefits and a 50% decrease in grievances. Abbott Lake County showed a 6 to 1 payback just through savings in health insurance premiums.

Following are two examples of how an EAP helped solve a specific company problem:

Example One:
One company had a severe safety problem with a total of 415 workdays lost to injuries in one year. The Human Resources Director, suspecting a significant substance abuse problem among employees, implemented an aggressive safety program, which included an EAP.

The EAP provided training to supervisors with a particular focus on the identification and proper management of employees with substance abuse issues. When 15% of the employee population used the program during the first year, the annual number of lost workdays decreased 85% to sixty-four and the company’s worker’s compensation costs also dropped significantly.

Example Two:
A food processing company was concerned about its high turnover rate. Since employee surveys and termination interviews established that most employees were leaving for personal reasons, the company implemented an EAP to boost retention. All levels of management were trained in how to use the program, how to identify employees in need of assistance and how to refer them to the EAP.

Over 10% of employees used the program in the first year and feedback indicated that the EAP helped employees find solutions to their problems that allowed them to stay at work. Managers were able to save good employees whose performance had deteriorated by referring them to the EAP. The turnover rate decreased from 24% to 16%.

Once the Human Resources Department sees an EAP is seen as value-added service, it can use the program in many ways to increase organizational effectiveness.

SOURCE: By Neil Gladstone. Appeared in Kaleidoscope, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Kwasha, January/February 1999.

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