Every employer knows that employees want health insurance and a retirement plan, but employee assistance programs are also very important, even if you’ve never heard of them. What are employee assistance programs (EAPs)?
Basically, an employee assistance program helps employees solve non-work problems. They can provide assistance with finances, legal issues, and even marriage problems. Depending on the EAP, employees can receive referrals to counselors or discounted services or even a limited number of free appointments with a counselor, attorney or another person who can help the employee through a difficult situation. EAPs should be confidential and only provide general information to the company—not details on who called for what. If the EAP cannot provide that level of confidentiality, find a new provider.
How Can an EAP Help Your Business?
You may think that personal problems are personal and work problems are work and never the twain shall meet. However, real life doesn’t work that way. If you have an employee going through an acrimonious divorce, a lawsuit from a crazy homeowner’s association or raising a teenager who struggles with depression, the impact on your business can be noticeable.
Employees who have difficulties outside of work will often have difficulties at work as well. Getting them the help that they need can increase productivity in the office.
How Do You Make an EAP Effective?
First, employees need to know it exists. If it was just a line in their orientation packet, when they need help they won’t know that the company can help. Post contact information in the break room, make the information easily accessible on your company intranet and talk about benefits available in a lunch and learn.
Once people know it exists, they need a chance to use it. This means you also need to be flexible. If the EAP refers the employee to a therapist or an attorney, but you don’t allow your employees to take a couple of hours off during the week, there won’t be any benefit. Remember, your goal is to help your employees through their problems so that they can be better focused on work.
Can’t Employees Help Themselves?
Of course, they can. But when are they going to do that? During business hours, when they should be working for you. It can also come at an extreme cost to the employee, which can increase their stress at work. An EAP vets people and can make ready recommendations, meaning your employees spend less time trying to find a financial advisor and more time working. That’s a win for everyone. And while the appointments and help they receive through the EAP may be during business hours, they are effective hours. That is, instead of spending hours trying to find a financial planner and then taking time off to meet with the planner, your employees only need a quick phone call to get a referral and then the appointment, strongly reducing the impact on your business.
Are EAPs Expensive?
They shouldn’t be. EAPs generally run somewhere between $12 and $40 per employee per year. If a job candidate tried to negotiate a $25 annual increase, you’d think they were crazy to care about such a small sum. While every dollar counts when you’re running a small business, this one is almost painless and provides employees who need it with a great service. Make sure you let your employees know it’s available and when someone struggles, remind them of the contact information.
When you’re setting up your benefits, make sure you include employee assistance programs in your benefits package. It’s an inexpensive benefit that can be a literal lifesaver for an employee with a problem, and that benefits your business as well.