Take Advantage of Employee Assistance Programs
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
In the recent years, employers have shown strong interest in, and commitment to providing their employees with employee assistance programs (EAP).  Employers are providing workshops on stress management and relaxation, weight management, substance abuse, nutrition, exercise, workplace violence, smoking cessation, and anger management.  If a critical incident occurs at a company, employers are likely to arrange a “critical incident debriefing,” so employees can process the traumatic event and come to grips with it.  A comprehensive EAP offers all or most of the above stated programs.

Smart employers know that what is good for the employees is good for the company.  When employees experience personal and family crises, accidents happen, productivity declines, and companies spend more health dollars on psychological and physical health.  Subsequently, the cost of health coverage increases.  It is really true that “a stitch in time saves nine” for the future.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield found that every dollar spent on psychological care of breast-cancer patients saved $2.50 to $5.10 in overall care.  

The public school system of Orange County, Florida, found that the cost of medical claims dropped by two-thirds over five years for employees who used EAP.  At the end of five years, the same employees were taking thirty-six percent fewer sick leaves.  In another study, at McDonnell-Douglas Corporation, workers treated for alcohol and drug problems missed forty-four percent less fewer days of work after the EAP was set up.  The turn over of employees in the same company went down from forty percent to eight percent in just four years.  
Employees and companies don’t have to wait for four or five years to experience the benefits of EAP.  Campbell Soup Company in 1992 found that in just one year mental health care cost went down by twenty-eight percent, that is, from $261 to $188 for each employee.  Fewer people had to be hospitalized because they sought employee assistance promptly.    

However, employees rarely use the service offered to them.  Some shy away from seeking help because of the stigma attached to it and others are poorly informed about such programs.   A major deterrent to employees using EAP is their concern about confidentiality.  Surveys indicate employees fear that their supervisors will learn about their personal and sensitive information and may later use it against them.  Employers and EAP providers must openly discuss these concerns and identify the measures they take to protect the personal information and confidentiality.  
If you have an EAP at your work place, you should ask for an in-service or a personal meeting to find out more about it.  After all, EAP is a part of your employee benefit package and you and your family are entitled to use it.  Find out what specific information is sent to your employer and how the EAP providers make sure that any information that can personally identify you never reaches the hands of your employers.   On the other hand, your employers have to know how many employees utilize the service for what types of problem and whether the consumers of the service felt satisfied or not.  Note that your employers need to know only the numbers and not the names.  

Some people hesitate to go to their EAP providers for financial considerations.  They mistakenly think that they will have to pay part of it just as they must pay when they utilize their insurance, HMO or, some other form of managed care assistance.   Under EAP, there is a limited number of meetings that are available to you, free of cost, every year.  A typical number of meetings available are four to six, each year.  
Surveys indicate that a good deal of confusion exists among employees regarding the EAP beneficiaries.  In a typical EAP set-up, both you and your dependents can utilize the service with same terms and conditions applied.  However, you must find out specifically about the EAP program that your employers have set up for you.  

EAP providers, compared with insurance and managed care providers, have a lot more latitude in the service they offer you.  In order to utilize an insurance or managed care service, you must have a diagnosable disorder.  The reality is, that a lot of times, people don’t have a diagnosable disorder.  For example, many simply need help with their troubled marriage or their defiant teenager.   Find out more about the EAP offered at your workplace.  

EAP can be effective.  Some study indicates that eighty percent of those who utilize EAP resolve the problem to their satisfaction and don’t need traditional health care services beyond that EAP contact.  However, the quality of EAP providers determines how effective an EAP is going to be.  Unfortunately, some EAP providers, in order to provide cheap service, use unqualified providers.  Therefore, check the credentials of professionals providing your EAP service.  

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