Pillar 3: Offer Employee ASSISTANCE
Pillar 3 in the framework is to assist employees who have, or who may develop, mental health conditions.
Several tactics for assisting employees are explored in Pillar 1, such as:
- Providing mentoring, coaching and peer support to your employees.
- Providing mental health screening and access to secondary and tertiary treatment.
- Providing flexible work arrangements such as flex-scheduling and telecommuting.
- Offering fitness programs to improve employees’ physical—and, in turn mental— health.
- Offering stress management training.
All About EAPs
In addition, many employers support employees by sponsoring Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) focused on mental health services. But what are EAPs, and how exactly do they work? The following resources can help.
According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), EAPs “serve organizations and their employees in multiple ways, ranging from consultation at the strategic level about issues with organization-wide implications to individual assistance to employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties.” These difficulties may include, but are not limited to:
- Stress, whether work-related or not
- Alcohol and other drug abuse, including prescription drug abuse
- Major life transitions
- Health care management concerns
- Financial or legal concerns
- Family or personal relationship concerns, including those related to marriage, children or aging parents
- Coworker relationship concerns
- Work/life balance
EAP services are paid for in full by the employer but are provided confidentially; employers do not know which individual employees access EAP services, rather, they only receive data regarding the number who do. Some large organizations offer in-house EAP services, while others outsource them to specialized EAP providers. Regardless of approach, EAPs typically offer access to a 24-hour telephone hotline.
Originally, EAPs were focused on substance abuse disorders. The first programs, started in the 1930s, were peer-to-peer efforts to address worker alcohol use in particular and its impact on worker performance. Over time, businesses realized the model could be used to help employees address a range of personal and mental health issues that might negatively impact their productivity.
Research conducted over the years has affirmed EAPs’ effectiveness, for both employers and employees, on multiple levels. In addition to increased employee productivity, these benefits include reduced medical costs, turnover and absences. They can also be a key tool for employee retention and helping employees stay at or return to work following accident or illness, whether a mental health condition or not. Given their roots, EAPs may be a key tool for helping employees impacted by the opioid epidemic.
The benefits of EAPs convey regardless of size of company, yet small businesses are less likely to offer them than their larger counterparts, even though research by the National Small Business Association indicates that 42 percent of small business owners report that, when it comes to overall productivity and employee health, high stress levels are the greatest concern. There are strategies small businesses can use to offer EAP services, for example, by banding together to negotiate for better prices. Business membership groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations may be of assistance in this regard. In fact, providing employee assistance in the small business environment can be especially important, given that decreased productivity or absence of even one employee can have significant effects across an organization.
EAPs may not be an option for every company, in which case many of the tips listed in Pillar 1 can help employers accomplish similar goals.
However large or small your organization, the following are resources that can help you leverage EAPs as a workplace mental health strategy.
- Employee Assistance Programs: This toolkit from the Center for Workplace Mental Health provides basic background on EAPs along with information on delivery and pricing models, tips for employers and resource links.
- An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs (PDF): This report from the National Business Group on Health is designed to help employers realize the strategic value of an EAP.
- Employee Assistance Programs for a New Generation of Employees: Defining the New Generation: This report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) explores EAPs in the context of the millennial workforce.
- Providing Support: This resource from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) addresses EAPs in the context of worker substance abuse in particular.