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Ease Your Mind

Increase benefits and save on health insurance with an EAP.
August 1, 2000
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/30874

One of your employees is going through a divorce, and the related stress and anxiety are creating a negative impact on his performance. Another is experiencing problems with her child-care provider, making her frequently late or absent. Still another employee is trying to cope with an out-of-control teenager, spending hours of each workday either on the phone or talking with other employees about the situation.

It would be great if employees could just leave their personal problems at home, get to work on time and do what's expected of them-but because that's not likely to ever be a reality, you need to look for ways to help. One of the most efficient and affordable options is the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP).

EAPs are becoming an increasingly common component of employer benefits packages, taking a broad-brush approach to assisting employees with virtually all their problems, including psychological issues, marital and family issues, substance abuse and more, says Gus Stieber, director of business development for VMC Behavioral Healthcare Services, an EAP firm located in Gurnee, Illinois. Even if your health insurance includes mental-health coverage, EAPs usually provide earlier intervention (and therefore earlier resolution) for a broader range of issues that sometimes go way beyond mental health. EAPs will refer situations to insurance when appropriate if they are unable to deal with the circumstance or problem at hand.

Stieber says referring to an EAP is less expensive than using insurance, often saving companies 20 to 30 percent or more on their mental-health and substance-abuse costs. But, says Stieber, "the biggest savings is in terms of the wellness aspects that EAPs offer." For example, many EAPs offer programs such as health fairs, stress-management classes and a variety of work-life programs, such as assistance with child care, elder care, financial planning and legal issues-which all help smaller companies to offer big-corporation-style benefits packages to their employees.

Some EAPs also offer valuable supervisory training. "About 60 percent of a supervisor's time is typically spent dealing with the personal problems of employees-problems they haven't been trained to deal with, nor is it in any way appropriate for them to deal with these kinds of problems," says Stieber. "When you bring in an EAP, you can train your supervisors to re-fer to the EAP, which is the most appropriate place to deal with personal problems. That way, you'll be able to enhance productivity at the management level."

EAPs typically charge either an annual flat rate or a per-person annual rate, and are becoming increasingly affordable to both small and large employers. Stieber recommends checking out several providers before finally choosing an EAP. If you have trouble finding an EAP you like, you might want to ask your insurance agent to refer one to you. Be sure to look at their lists of services and programs, limitations, types of employee and supervisory orientation, and accessibility. Finally, Stieber says, find out if they are able to provide critical-incident management to help you in the event of workplace violence or a serious on-the-job accident.


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