As organizations strive to remain competitive and project a positive image to target audience, quality of work life and wellbeing of employees become a major concern. In order to retain valued employees and address employees’ problems, organizations employ Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are confidential employer-supported programs designed to provide counseling services to employees and alleviate workplace issues and personal problems that affect negatively work performance. The goal of EAPs is to impact positively organizational performance and employee productivity as well as employee wellbeing and health. EAP services mainly consist of short-term counseling and referrals for further counseling. The program may extend to employees’ household members who manifest personal problems that may affect health and job performance of an employee. EAPs provide support when issues related to work relationships, stress, substance abuse, legal and financial concerns as well as major life events take place. The analysis of the effectiveness and advantages of EAPs demonstrates that such programs positively impact organizational performance, improve workplace climate, reduce absenteeism, and improve employee productivity.
What EAPs Offer Employees
In order to maximize its benefits and remain relevant and applicable to a broader range of issues, EAPs provide four types of services. Employee Assistance Society of North America [EASNA] describes four kinds of EAP services: individual services, managerial or supervisory services, organizational, and administrative services. These services benefit employees and organizations they work for both directly and indirectly.
Individual services are delivered directly to individual employees and their family members covered by EAP. For example, individual services may be used in instances when an employee or his or her family members suffer from mental health problems, substance abuse, chronic medical conditions, depression, or gambling and need adequate counseling. In situations when an employee goes through marital difficulties, incidents at work or personal problems, participation in EAP is beneficial as well. Furthermore, when a member of a company has a problem with workgroup morale issues, on-the-job accidents, diminished performance and work quality, absenteeism, and poor customer relations, referring to EAP assistance may be what an employee needs to go through difficult time, make important decisions, enhance one’s resilience, and restore emotional and psychological health. Therefore, employing EAPs helps to identify, resolve, and prevent personal and productivity issues. Besides benefitting individual employees, EAPs have a positive and significant impact on organization too. For example, workforce that is assisted with an EAP can better cope with stress and respond successfully to pressures and changes. Individual employee-focused services include problem assessment, short-term counseling, specialized advice, assistance with return to work, supportive treatment, and referrals for additional treatment. Individual services may be provided to employees in a form of face-to-face counseling, phone conversations, and e-mail or Skype communication.
Managerial or supervisory services are provided for supervisors and managers of an organization. This kind of services includes education and training for supervisors and managers, assistance in how to refer employees to EAP, and guidance on adequately supporting employees with personal and work issues and assisting employees with return-to-work and accommodation issues. Furthermore, managerial/supervisory services may include skill development, managing disciplinary, performance, and work-team issues. This kind of services enables managers and supervisors to resolve human resources-related issues more knowledgeably and professionally.
Organizational EAP services are delivered either to separate units within an organization or to an entire organization and include training and educating members of an organization in areas of advance planning, response to organizational change, and resolution of crisis events. Organizational services may include organizational development (intergroup conflicts, employee engagement, work culture, leadership, etc.), organizational change management (mergers, downsizing, layoffs, reorganization, etc), employee orientation, wellness programs, support groups and group orientations, critical incidents response and services, and disaster preparedness management. Therefore, organizational EAP services aim at enabling an organization to manage organization-wide issues.
Finally, administrative services include measures aimed to support EAP program operations. Administrative services include developing EAP program structure and design, aligning the program with organizational policies and procedures, conducting marketing and outreach for EAP, evaluation and reporting mechanisms, staffing and professional development, and coordinating involvement with other administrative teams, groups, and committees within an organization. Not every EAP delivers all the aforementioned services. In the majority of companies, these programs consist of a combination of services that an organization finds relevant in the context of its operation. Therefore, the analysis of different kinds of EAPs demonstrates that they equip employees with skills and offer tools and mechanisms that help them to remain employable and productive. On the other hand, organizations that employ EAPs boast to offer their employees better workplace environment and facilitate workplace dynamics that increase job satisfaction, improve teamwork and reduce stress.
Importance of EAP Benefits
As was noted in the previous section, using EAPs brings several advantages such as alleviating problematic personal and professional issues and their positive impact on employee productivity, absenteeism, staff time, and organizational resources. Furthermore, there are factors that point out that benefits that EAPs provide become all the more relevant and important in contemporary business environment. For example, Kurzman writes that benefits associated with employee assistance are going to convince specialists and employers to develop and adopt more comprehensive EAP models. The author believes that advantages of EAPs are so significant that such programs have the potential of becoming a part of an organizations’ strategic pursuit of innovation and productivity. Therefore, relevance of EAPs is not likely to fade away. To the contrary, innovative models of such programs may become more widely adopted and actively pursues by employers.
There are several factors that speak in favor of a value proposition of EAPs. Sharar and Lennox list following advantages of offering counseling services to employees. First, counseling empowers an employee to prevent his or her personal problems from impairing workplace performance and distracting him or her from concentrating on one’s work. Second, EAPs increase work satisfaction rates. Third, counseling helps an employee to separate personal problems and worries from workplace-related matters and complete tasks without worrying about personal issues. Therefore, it is apparent that one of the important features of workplace counseling is in its ability to empower an employee to manage his or her personal and professional problems in a manner that causes minimal disruptions to work process as well as helps to maintain productivity and prevent him or her from dwelling on a negative side of things.
In contemporary business, workplace demands and global challenges as well as highly dynamic and stressful workplace environment demand instituting effective intervention programs designed to improve employees’ quality of work life. Bophela and Govender conducted a study to determine whether employees view EAPs as valid tools for improving work life and identify the importance of EAP benefits. Researchers reported several interesting findings. First, EAPs that address substance abuse, stress-related issues, family-related problems, and help with resolving personal issues help to improve the quality of work life of employees, minimize absenteeism, increase the level of work commitment, and help employees to sharpen their competitive skills. Second, EAPs help managers to be more proactive in projecting a positive image of an organization, improving customer service, and increasing customer satisfaction. Finally, benefits of EAPs are important because engaging in EAPs helps employees to have their need for a health workplace environment met and be more fully immersed in work life as well as more dedicated and committed.
Further analysis of practical experiences related to EAPs convincingly demonstrates that time and resources invested in such programs are well worth it. For example, Nair and Xavier studied whether employees consider counseling at workplace a necessity and advantageous practice. They found that generally, employees realize the benefits and importance of counseling and consider it a worthwhile endeavor. Authors believe that employee counseling at workplace should be introduced in every organization as any other facility due to its importance and obvious benefits. The fact that EAPs help to manage one’s emotions at workplace, alleviate pressures, and maintain positive interpersonal relations shows that such programs are not a waste of money and time. For example, EASNA reports that when it comes to EAPs, return on investment equals three dollars for each dollar invested in EAPs. Thus, cited findings further contribute to confirmations of benefits of workplace counseling.
Counseling and support that EAPs offer to individual employees as well as training and education programs EAPs provide for management and leadership have a positive impact on a broad range of workplace issues and contribute to improved performance and stronger health of employees, management, and an organization as a whole. The four kinds of EAP services allow creating a comprehensive framework that benefits productivity, workplace environment, job satisfaction, and commitment and reduces absenteeism and staff turnover. Furthermore, EAPs help businesses to retain valued personnel, project a positive image of an organization, improve customer service and increase customer satisfaction. Significance of benefits and importance of EAPs indicates that such programs will continue being in demand, evolving into innovative and even more effective strategic tools.