As businesses search for opportunities to trim their budgets, employee benefits will typically be the first to feel the ax, from workplace wellness initiatives to employee assistance programs (EAPs). In this economic climate, everything needs a solid business case, and making that case for an EAP can be crucial to closing the deal. Sometimes, to get the right answer, you have to reframe the question — and the beliefs that companies have about EAPs.
Let’s follow a business-case approach, then, stating the challenge, solutions, resource requirements, and measurement criteria.
The challenge: Maximize employee productivity
This is your “foot in the door.” Right away, eliminate any defense that companies might raise about EAPs being a fringe or “extra” benefit. Every business wants productive employees, no matter the economic environment. The most important thing to know about employee assistance programs is that they have a positive impact on the bottom line.
You may have to help your clients overcome some outdated impressions of EAPs, which were first launched in the 1980s as a place to refer employees who had substance abuse problems and needed to seek treatment. But EAPs have changed with the times.
Research has uncovered a number of root causes of lost workplace productivity:
- According to a study by the National Mental Health Association, “presenteeism” — showing up for work but being less productive — costs more than $200 billion annually in the United States. For a business, this might mean giving up 5 percent to 12 percent of its workforce’s productivity each day.
- Depression and anxiety are among the top five reasons for absenteeism and presenteeism, according to research published in the April 2009 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This applies to management as well as line workers, and represents a significant drain on a company’s productivity.
- Stressors such as family issues and financial, credit, and legal problems can detract from employees’ valuable time, attention, and energy even when they’re at work.
The solution: A multi-faceted approach to boosting productivity
While supervisors may be able to spot troubled employees, it’s unlikely that they or a human resources staffer would feel comfortable making such a direct suggestion as, “Get yourself into counseling.”
While many health plans do cover counseling, a depressed person often struggles with even the simplest of tasks, and they may have difficulty identifying the problem, let along finding a provider. In addition, copayments or limited visits can hinder employee access.
There can be many non-medical reasons for presenteeism and absenteeism, as well, such as family-related or financial issues — issues that a health plan won’t address.
The goal of a good EAP is to equip businesses with the tools required to resolve any problems affecting productivity. Today’s EAPs offer a wide range of services that can be accessed with a simple phone call. There is also no upfront cost sharing, removing yet another barrier to assistance.