Millions of workers struggle with challenges they don't want to talk about at work: mental illness, substance abuse, stress. Recognizing this, many companies have employee assistance programs (EAPs) that are designed to help organizations address productivity issues by assisting employees with identifying and resolving personal concerns.
EAPs allow individual workers and their family members to confidentially access professional counselors for a variety of issues related to mental health (such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace problems, and challenges that occur in their daily lives or the lives of family members.
Many Don't Use Them
Even though EAPs have been part of the workplace since the 1970s and are still popular among corporations small and large, many workers do not take full advantage of the services. That's unfortunate, says Melanie Keveles, a certified professional coactive coach and president of Aligned Advantage Business and Personal Coaching.
"This is a benefit that your organization is offering you so that you will remain a productive employee," says Keveles. "Would you think twice about using the dental program or medical program offered? Take advantage of it."
Elizabeth Laukka, a national recruiter for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, says employers and managers view EAPs as a helpful source.
"It's a safe haven for an employee, and it gives managers another option for providing counseling and support to an employee," Laukka says. "Managers can also use EAPs to discuss issues they may be dealing with in regards to the employees they work with."
According to the Department of Labor study "What Works: Workplaces Without Drugs," for every dollar invested in an EAP, employers generally save anywhere from $5 to $16. Data provided by the Houston-based Interface EAP, claims that employee use of EAPs has been shown to result in a:
- 66 percent decline in absenteeism after alcohol abusers have been identified and treated.
- 75 percent reduction in inpatient alcohol and other drug abuse treatment costs.
- 33 percent decline in use of sickness benefits.
- 65 percent decline in work-related accidents.
- 30 percent decline in workers' compensation claims.
If You Use It, Should You Keep Quiet?
Joan Runnheim, president of Pathways Career Success Strategies and a provider for a Twin Cities-based EAP, says it's important to discuss how confidentiality issues will be handled prior to getting started. She also reminds EAP users that these are often a stepping-stone to short-term solutions. If additional counseling and services are needed, EAPs can refer you to counselors who can help on a more long-term basis. Laukka, Keveles and Runnheim all agree that employers should not ask individuals if they have used EAPs at any time.
"The EAP only identifies the number of employees utilizing the services, not their names," says Runnheim. The reason for that, Keveles says, is to ensure it is a benefit a company finds useful for its employees.
According to Dr. Bena Tomlinson, The Wellness Doctor and a trainer and speaker on a number of topics related to personal growth, career transition and professional development, "Many employees fear repercussions, but any good manager will abide by strict confidentiality when dealing with employees taking advantage of the program. In fact, there are state and federal laws to that effect." You may not want to share information with your coworkers, though.
"It should not be shaming to ask for help, or to let coworkers know you have done so," says Tomlinson. "However, my personal belief is that it may be best to keep personal issues [like consulting with EAP] private, until resolution is at least in sight. If coworkers don't understand it could add more stress to an already difficult situation."
Contact your human resources department to find out if your company provides an EAP and, if so, what it offers.