This article is based on the author’s presentation at the Symposium.
It’s likely that most benefits professionals would agree with the following statement: Employee assistance programs (EAPs) contribute to the well-being of employees.
Since the 1970’s, EAPs have expanded their range of services and added a variety of supplier channels including health plans, disability carriers and wellness companies. When bundled with other services, many are promoted as “free” although their costs are embedded in other offerings.
EAPs have become a fairly standard benefit, but their perceived value has diminished largely for the following reasons:
- The positive impacts of service events are usually hidden from the purchaser because of client confidentiality. Exceptions are high-profile cases and events that affect the employer as well as the employee (e.g., critical incidents, performance issues).
- Until recently, the industry has attempted to show value by focusing on utilization rates and satisfaction scores instead of behavioral outcomes, which are more difficult and costly to measure. However, without showing positive outcomes, EAPs become of questionable value, prompting employers to purchase lower cost, watered-down programs.
- EAPs continue to be seen by many as a service primarily focused on a comparatively small number of substance abusers and people with significant mental health issues, a view that is reinforced by low utilization rates (often in the 4% to 6% range). Increasingly, employers complain that “the other 95%” of their workforce either doesn’t need or fails to use EAP services.
- Over the years, EAPs have gone from being viewed as a workplace safety and productivity program to a necessary but not very critical employee benefit with minimal impact on organizational success.
The last point deserves more explanation. The genesis of EAPs was in manufacturing environments, where it was recognized that personal issues and stress can have a substantial impact on an employee’s ability to concentrate, be productive and function in a safe manner. In today’s workplace, personal issues and stress remain a concern, but the most recent focus is on promoting health and well-being as a way to address productivity concerns and reduce benefit costs. With knowledge of organizational dynamics and expertise in human behavior, EAPs can fulfill a vital role in advancing and employer’s overall wellness strategy, which itself is closely linked to business success. However, doing so will require a new iteration of EAP, one that addresses both the needs of individuals and of the workplace culture in which they function.
Start thinking of all your benefit plans as programs to support your organization’s overall business success. Given this viewpoint, you begin to see benefit providers more as partners than vendors. Partners need information from you about your priorities and measures of success and, in return, should demonstrate how their service or product is impacting the health and well-being of your population. To realize the full value of your investment, it’s critical that each benefit partner be aware of the offerings of all other programs you have in place, and make appropriate cross referrals to meet the needs of individual members. In addition to utilization and outcomes data, your partners should also be prepared to report the number, type and outcome of referrals made to other benefit programs. True benefit integration will increase the profile of all your programs and increase the value of your EAP.
Partner with your EAP to address the cultural needs of your organization. According to a 2010 Buck Consultants survey, one of the fastest growing wellness program initiatives in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America is a focus on “improving the psychosocial work environment.” Also, in his book Zero Trends, University of Michigan Professor Dee W. Edington states, “the psychosocial environment may be one of the real growth areas in the future as we learn more about ways to motivate and reward individuals through the culture of their organization.” EAP practitioners, with their knowledge of human behavior and in-depth understanding of the organizational dynamics, are in an ideal position to assess the behavioral landscape of a worksite and generate options to address specific areas of need. A company that effectively partners with benefit providers to address individual wellness goals while also working to create a supportive culture will realize the full value of its behaviorally oriented workplace programs.
EAPs have a long history of supporting businesses and their workforces. It’s time to take a fresh look at the unique skill set this profession brings to an employer and find new ways of applying it to further individual employee well-being and overall organizational success.
International Society of Certified Employee Benefits Specialists
Reproduced with permission from Newsbriefs, Volume 30, Number 4, Fourth Quarter 2012, Pages 18-19, published by the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists (www.iscebs.org), Brookfield, Wisconsin. All rights reserved. Statements or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of the International Society, its officers, directors, or staff.