Employee Assistance Programs Are for Small Businesses, Too

This perk may help you and your business-owner clients boost employee productivity and satisfaction.

By Teri Dreher
Whether employees are back in the office, still working from home or doing a little of both, business owners need to be aware of the physical and mental toll of today’s workplace demands and take action to keep employees healthy and productive.

Offering an employee assistance program (EAP) in one strategy that can help and it’s within reach even for small businesses. Whether you want to provide a program for your employees or advise small business owners about EAPs, here are some suggestions to get the conversation started.

It is well known that happy and healthy employees are more productive employees. Companies with EAPs have a 21% lower absenteeism rate and a 14% higher productivity rate, according to research attributed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, the cost of not providing this type of assistance to employees can be enormous:

  • Depression costs employers an estimated $44 billion each year in lost productivity and about half of employees with depression are untreated, according to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workplace Mental Health.
  • Employee burnout costs companies $322 billion globally through turnover and lost productivity, according to Gallup. A large part of the burden falls on women due to domestic and childcare responsibilities and unsupportive workplace cultures.

How EAPs can help

EAPs have a long history in the U.S., tracing back to the 1940s. They originally began as occupational alcohol programs to address the negative impact that the misuse of alcohol has on productivity and organizational performance. Today, some EAPs address financial problems, while others focus on addiction treatment and recovery, toxic workplace issues and mental health concerns.

Companies that offer resources to support their employees’ physical and mental well-being can help employees avoid burnout, manage stress and be more productive. EAP services, which are confidential, offer employees the space to tackle problems that may impact their job performance without having to worry about sharing this sensitive information with their employer.

Typically, an EAP provides employees with initial assessments, short-term counseling and recommendations for further resources — all free of charge. However, an employee will be responsible for the cost of any additional treatment needed.

Small businesses still lag

EAPs are often offered through major providers of employee health insurance, such as Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Larger companies are still much more likely to offer EAPs. In the private sector, 83% of workers in large companies (500 or more employees) had an EAP benefit, compared with 27% in very small companies (1 to 50 employees), 46% at small companies (50 to 99% employees) companies and 66% at medium-sized companies (100 to 499 employees).

Additional Reading: Don’t Try to ‘Fix’ Stressed Clients

Small businesses should know that EAPs are fully deductible as a business expense. And thanks to technology, a number of EAPs are available to smaller businesses, usually online or through mobile apps. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has  a list of vendors that it says are suitable for small businesses. Most offer on-demand services outside of working hours and use artificial intelligence to help match employees with therapists. Besides mental health counseling, some also provide financial counseling.

Other types of employee support

Office pizza parties are all well and good, but there are many other substantive actions a company can take to help its employees remain productive and content in their jobs.

For example, a company can contract with a health advocacy company or a private patient advocate. These resources can be called upon when an employee needs more help than HR can provide. An advocate can also bring employees’ concerns to HR and management while protecting the identity of these employees. That goes a long way toward establishing trust. The Society for Human Resources Management offers a vendor directory on its website.

Other low-cost employee benefits that can help support health and wellness are discounted gym memberships, financial coaching and nutrition programs.

The following no-cost practices can also improve employee productivity, happiness and stress levels:

  • Encourage movement, such as standing and stretching at the desk and going for walks.
  • Plan a healthy pot-luck lunch and recipe swap.
  • Encourage everyone to use their paid time-off.
  • • Set aside 15 minutes in the afternoon for relaxation or meditation.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with performance and productivity if you put practices like these into action. And you might feel better yourself!

 Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com. A critical care nurse for more than 35 years, she is also the author of a new book, How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones.  It is available on Amazon.




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