Workforce

Educate Workers About Employee Assistance Programs to Address Behavioral Health

An employee assistance program is an important component of creating a caring environment, which is vital to developing a healthy safety culture.
By Cal Beyer
August 30, 2018
Topics
Workforce

According to a 2016 study conducted by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), 77 percent of organizations offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is a core offering that demonstrates a company embraces human capital risk management. EAPs are an important element in a company’s employee health benefits program.

Objectives, Outcomes and ROI for EAPs

The objective of EAPs is to reduce distractions that impact employees’ attendance, productivity, life satisfaction, life/work balance and overall performance. There is a business case for EAPs. According to the Employee Assistance Society of North America, investment in an EAP will return at least a savings of $3 as a return per $1 invested in services. Other organizations report even higher return on investments; however, further analysis of these figures reflect larger and even global companies that are not as applicable to the U.S. construction industry, where a preponderance of companies have less than 100 employees.

EAPs traditionally have had a phone number for 24/7 access. Today it is increasingly common that employees, dependents and other family members can access EAP services and resources through an online portal. EAPs offer confidential services that are free for employees and dependent family members. The services offered by EAPs provide employees the opportunity to address stressors that disrupt work/life balance.

Types of EAP Services

Major types of services included in EAPs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Marriage, family and relationship issues;
  • Health management;
  • Legal and financial assistance;
  • Grief counseling;
  • Stress management techniques;
  • Substance use disorder treatment;
  • Behavioral health and crisis counseling; and
  • Critical Incident Debriefing after major workplace incidents.

Most Requested EAP Services

There is no data available to pinpoint how U.S. construction company employees use EAPs. However, according to the fifth annual EAP trends report by Chestnut Global Partners, following are the five leading types of services requested of EAPs for all North American companies in all industries;

  1. Marital – 16.4 percent;
  2. Stress – 16.2 percent;
  3. Anxiety – 14.4 percent;
  4. Depression – 11.6 percent; and
  5. Child behavior – 10.2 percent.

These findings reinforce the need for construction companies to address mental health and suicide prevention as the next frontier in safety, health and wellness.

Challenge of Low Use

Unfortunately, EAPs are frequently an underused resource in the construction industry. It is not uncommon to find use rates ranging between 1 percent to 2 percent for most small- to medium-sized construction companies. Many construction companies have never requested or been provided a utilization report. One explanation for this low use is historically EAPs have been a low-cost bolt-on to insurance benefit programs.

Another explanation of low use rates for EAPs is many companies believe having an EAP is sufficient and it is up to the choice of employees to use the services provided. The rationale is that personal and family matters warrant privacy and confidentiality.

However, the work of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention has demonstrated the importance of construction employers addressing mental health, suicide prevention and addiction recovery in the workplace.

Marketing Your Company’s EAP

It is imperative for companies to learn how to market their EAP internally to all covered employees to increase use and provide tangible benefits to more employees. A robust EAP service platform has little impact on the wellbeing of a company’s employees if few people are aware of the services and how to access the services or resources.

Companies with the best EAP use have created flyers listing the features and benefits of the service offerings. These companies have taken additional steps to promote the EAP, including articles in company newsletters, posting numbers on paper and electronic paystubs, printing sleeves for company gas cards with EAP and crisis hotline numbers, and leading educational sessions to inform employees about the services.

Assessing Behavioral Health Services

An important component of an EAP is access to behavioral health services outside of normal business hours. It is important for a company to make a call (or periodic calls) to test the behavioral health number so they understand what services are available to employees. It is imperative for companies to understand the expected turnaround time to schedule and/or if there is a potential for delay for an employee scheduling an appointment for emergency crisis care from the EAP.

It is not surprising to learn that many community mental health clinics are understaffed or already over capacity and cannot assign employees in need with an immediate consultation with a behavioral specialist. This is one reason that the CIASP has downloadable posters available on its website to help employers promote suicide prevention in the workplace. The CIASP also has distributed wallet card templates for construction companies to print to share with employees with key information, including contact information for Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Questions to Better Understand the EAP Capabilities

  1. Do you know your company’s EAP use rate? Request a utilization report directly from your EAP provider or your benefits insurance broker. You should be able to receive a breakdown of the number of employees (not names) who accessed which types of services.
  2. Do you understand the eligibility for your EAP? Does it include only employees and their dependents? Or, does your company’s EAP have expanded coverage for other family members, including parents and in-laws?
  3. Does your company discuss the EAP during the annual open enrollment process for insurance and other employee benefit programs?
  4. Does your company include the EAP during new employee orientation and onboarding processes for new hires?
  5. Does your company’s EAP have a portal for accessing a library of online resources on various topics? What is the use rate for these resources? Do your employees know these resources exist online?
  6. Does your EAP provider understand your company’s health insurance program and make referrals for employees and family members to in-network health providers?
  7. Does your company’s EAP offer behavior health services and do these include crisis services?
  8. Does your company’s EAP have telephonic counseling services available if there will be a delay in being referred to a behavioral specialist?
  9. Does your EAP have access to behavioral health counselors who have received training in suicide prevention and substance use disorder treatment?

Conclusion

An EAP is an important component of creating a caring environment, which is vital to developing a healthy safety culture. EAPs demonstrate concern and care for employees and their families. Employees who are able to maintain proper life/work balance are more engaged in their work. EAPs are a tool that construction companies can leverage to help promote and address mental health and suicide prevention in the workplace.

by Cal Beyer
Cal Beyer is the Director of Risk Management at Lakeside Industries in Issaquah, Wash. Cal has over 27 years of professional experience in safety, insurance and risk management serving the construction industry. He serves on the Executive Committee and is the Co-Lead for the Workplace Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. He also serves on the 2016 Editorial Review Board for Construction Business Owner. Cal received the Danny Parrish Outstanding Leadership Award in 2016 from the Construction Financial Management Association for his work on suicide prevention.

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