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 Dependence, 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 previous 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 resources 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 offsite 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 beaten.

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 that.

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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