Is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) worth the investment?
Accessing an employee assistance program (EAP) is often the first step an individual takes towards regaining and maintaining good mental health – but little evidence has been available to employers to illustrate the broader impact of these programs. A recent Canadian study paints a clear picture of the financial benefits for organizations that provide an EAP as part of a group benefits package.
What is an EAP?
EAPs provide employees with a self-referral process enabling them to access counselling and other services designed to help them cope with issues affecting mental wellness – a major cause of long and short term disability, conflict at work and absenteeism. In addition to personal issues, an employee can also be distracted on the job over problems directly affecting their loved ones, and EAPs provides a confidential way to receive support for all concerned. Only through a full EAP can counselling hours be shared with insured family members, making this a benefit attractive to those dealing with family concerns. An EAP’s self-referral aspect increases the likelihood of reaching out for assistance, as often an employee is reluctant to share problems, especially at work.
Despite increased media attempts to raise awareness of the need for greater understanding concerning mental wellness, living with issues such as depression, anxiety and stress, is still a significant burden. Only 50 per cent of Canadians are open with friends and co-workers about a family member with a mental illness, in comparison to the 72 per cent who openly discuss a diagnosis of cancer, according to a 2008 report from the Canadian Medical Association.
It’s hard to believe the statistics, but they are very real:
- An average of $51 billion is lost each year to the Canadian economy due to the impact of mental illness, according to a 2010 report from the Canadian Mental Health Association.
- One in four Canadian workers experience chronic work stress, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
- 70 per cent of disability claim costs relate to mental health concerns, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
- Mental health problems are predicted to become the number two cause of disability by 2020, according to the World Health Organization.
“If you own or manage a company, regardless of size, and think mental health is not your business, then it’s time to think again, “says Allan Stordy, president and CEO of Arete Human Resources Inc.
It’s an accepted fact that the longer someone is off work, the less likely he or she is to return, Stordy says, which is why Arete commissioned an independent study to provide solid numbers and evidence on why providing employees with an EAP is well worth it.
“Personal problems, financial and legal concerns, childcare and eldercare worries, and issues at work can all impact a person’s well-being and contribute towards depression, anxiety and other mental heal issues. In turn, these not only affect a person’s home life, but spill over to the workplace as well. We’ve known for a long time that counselling and support services offered through employee assistance programs improves the lives of those struggling under the weight of difficult issues. Now we can link those positive results to a very real cost savings for employers.”
The research study, conducted by APAS Laboratory, Investigating the global value of a Canadian employee assistance program, tracked volunteer employees when first accessing Arete’s EAP services, and then three months later. Significant mental health improvements were seen in individuals, as evidenced by a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress levels three months after the counselling sessions. After EAP use, public health care use related to specialist visits was also reduced.
In addition, the study found that reduced work productivity and significant employer costs at the initial intake stage highlighted the need for EAP services.
At intake, 66 percent of participants reported performance issues, with an estimated average loss of $1,063 in the previous four weeks for employers. This translates into an average annual loss of almost $13,000 per participant, associated with absenteeism and presenteeism (when an employee is on the job but working with reduced productivity due to preoccupation.) Prior to accessing the EAP, 66 per cent of all study participants reported having moderate to severe problems with stress, anxiety or depression. Three months after accessing the counselling program, less than 32 per cent fell into these same categories.
“We are not suggesting that EAPs are a magic wand, capable of making all mental health issues disappear,” says Stordy. “We have proven, however, that they are an effective gateway towards an improved state of health, not only for individuals, but for the organizations where they work and our overall health system. The evidence provided in this study, and future research, is aimed at breaking through any reluctance on accepting the benefits EAPs provide to individual Canadians, our businesses and our economy.”
Arete® Human Resources Inc. is the service provider behind the Chambers Plan Business Assistance Service (BAS). They also provide a range of other assistance programs, including the Arive® Employee Assistance program. A copy of the full research report mentioned in this post can be obtained by request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details about the Arive® EAP can be obtained from your local Chamber advisor.