Employee Assistance Programs

This being the day of the great downsize many managers are hurrying to
make the cut\'s and in doing so closely examining their Employee-Assistance
Programs for effectiveness. What are they? How do they help? How do they work?
Are they worth the hassle?

What are they?

By definition employee-assistance programs (EAP\'s) give a business the
means for identifying employees whose job performance is negatively affected by
personal problems. EAP\'s should arrange for structured assistance to solve
those problems with the goal of reestablishing the employee\'s job performance.

Three ways they help the employer and the employee:
First, EAP\'s should help in identifying a troubled worker. The two
largest problems in the workplace today are drug/alcohol abuse and the stressful
effects of downsizing. Many researchers today believe that drug/alcohol abuse
is responsible for most modern-day EAP\'s.
According to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance, 25
percent of all hospitalized patients have alcohol related problems. Alcohol is
involved in 47 percent of all industrial accidents and half of all auto
fatalities. The cost totals 86 billion dollars per year due to decreased
productivity, treatment programs, accidents, crime and law enforcement.
Although it is most costly at the top alcoholism/drug abuse affects
employees at every level of an organization. One company found that in the
pervious five years each worker with an alcohol/drug related problem missed 113
days of work and filed $23,000 more in medical claims than the average employee.
However, recovered alcohol/drug abusers will frequently credit their EAP for
literally saving their lives. By reclaiming highly experienced employees the
company also can recover some of their losses.
One of the most painful aspects of a human resource professional\'s job
is downsizing and it probably won\'t be going away soon. Layoffs affected 1.1
million workers in 1995 and are not expected to improve. EAP\'s are a resource
that can often help managers smooth the transition for outgoing employees and
for those who remain. When a company severs its ties with an employee, the
emotional reaction can be intense. Most laid-off workers will react with anger
then fade into denial and finally acceptance. This emotional roller coaster is
not unlike those experienced by people diagnosed with a serious illness. They
generally make the EAP available for up to six months after termination. This
"after termination counseling" will help a company by removing the possible
threat of retaliation in the form of sabotage or bad mouthing the company in the
public\'s eye (which can be as damaging as sabotage).
Second, through orientation and job leverage the EAP should motivate the
employee to get the help they need. The job leverage comes from the Quality
Assurance in Drug Testing Act, SEC. 2707.Employer Practices which says: "Nothing
in this title shall be construed to prohibit an employer from taking action
necessary, up to and including termination, in the case of an applicant or
employee who tests positive for drugs or who refuses to take a drug test
authorized under this title." This act has not yet passed but it will provide
the perfect motivation and release the employer from any lawsuits that might
come about from employees who think they have the right to do drugs.
The purpose of orientation is to educate employees about EAP policies,
procedures and services. Although it\'s not financially practical to spend an
enormous amount of time on this topic, it is important that an organized effort
be made to inform all employees of what the EAP is, How it works and for whom it
is intended. Obviously, having a program is wasteful if employees fail to use
it. Orientation should be done in a series of informal discussions like the
half hour before the end of the work day. Combining orientation with written
hand outs, posters and pay envelope enclosures may be most effective method.
Third, the EAP should help the troubled employee in getting help. This
requires the people involved in the EAP to be extremely knowledgeable of the
resources available in the community. EAP\'s come in many shapes and sizes
generally dependant on the size of the company. Some EAP\'s are simply a hotline
in which employees are encouraged to call a particular number and ask for help.
The person on the other end will provide names and numbers of local public
service agencies. This is considered to be an external program and is very
effective due to its confidentiality, however, the biggest problem is trying to
get the person to pick up the phone.
The most adaptable model for an EAP is one in which posters, cards,
brochures, supervisors and trained volunteers refer employees to an off site
councilor. Using