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How Employee Assistance Programs Can Help Your Small Business

According to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, employers lose an estimated $80 to $100 billion each year to employee mental illness and substance abuse problems. In fact, more days of lost work and work impairment are caused by mental illness than by any other chronic health condition.

 It's a particular problem in the traditionally tight-lipped skilled trade profession, and small business owners may lack the skill or resources to tackle the issue.

Where can your employees turn when stress or other issues impact their on-the-job performance?

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be a lifeline for your employees in times of crisis, helping them work through their life challenges and mental health problems. EAPs can also bring a strong return on investment; research suggests that for every dollar invested in an EAP, employers save $10 to $26.

 Here's some information about how EAPs work and how to get started.

What Is an EAP?

Employee assistance programs provide confidential counseling and support to employees to help them cope with personal issues, both inside and outside the workplace. The actual service is provided by a third-party organization, such as health insurance companies or designated EAP providers. EAP services are delivered via phone, online or in-person by trained counselors.

 EAPs date back to the 1940s when they began as programs to address issues resulting from alcoholism. Today, EAPs are commonplace in many unionized industries as well as government agencies. But EAPs also have a valuable role to play in small business — where counseling and support are sorely needed. A study by the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association found that small businesses, especially those in service or skilled trades, have a higher susceptibility to workplace issues such as mental illness and substance abuse. However, without an HR department to help develop policies and programs to support workplace wellness, such issues are often ignored.


What Are the Benefits?

In addition to the clear cost benefit to providing employees with access to treatment in the form of increased productivity, less absenteeism and reduced turnover, benefits of an EAP include:

  • Improved staff morale. Higher employee engagement doesn't just bring work satisfaction. An EAP also saves your employees the cost of seeking support themselves.
  • A reduction in workplace accidents. With an EAP counselor, employees can work through their mental issues, reduce stress and reduce "presenteeism" — where employees are present but disengaged.
  • Enhance your brand. By offering an EAP as part of your benefits package, you increase your appeal as an employer.


How Do You Start an EAP?

EAPs are provided as a service by many insurance companies. Plans vary by the number of employees you have and the level of service you need. Choose from a range of counseling services including wellness and mental health, legal and financial management matters, critical incident onsite counseling, access to HR consultants, and more.
Another option that may be available in your area is an EAP consortium. Consortiums are typically non-profits who provide small employers access to affordable EAP services. Start-up and administrative costs are often waived. An internet search will bring up a consortium in your area.
Once you've signed up, let your employees know. Educate them on why you're offering the program, the benefits, how they can access services and address any confidentiality concerns. Your EAP coordinator may be able to help with this process.