We live in a society in which discussing physical health is considered paramount, but discussing mental health is often taboo. For aches, pains, illnesses and injuries, the most common response is to see a doctor.
But for feelings of stress, depression or anxiety, people often feel uncomfortable or embarrassed discussing their experience with anyone else.
Why is that? Why do we as a society encourage each other to achieve good physical health but often ignore emotional stressors?
Promoting and supporting employees' physical and mental health isn't simply good for business. It's a necessity to achieving a productive, healthy, engaged, driven, loyal workforce. However, only 29% of employers feel very confident in accommodating employees’ mental health conditions.1
An effective employee assistance program (EAP) supports employees’ physical and emotional well-being by addressing key personal issues that directly affect physical health and workplace productivity.
What is an EAP and why is it important?
By definition, EAPs typically provide a wide range of services and resources to both employers and employees to support overall well-being and workplace functioning.
Most commonly, EAPs offer services that address a range of personal issues and goals that may interfere with an employee’s overall well-being and engagement at work.
- They can offer counseling for mental illness or substance abuse issues, interpersonal relationships, legal problems, and financial difficulties.
- They can connect employees to relevant information and resources to support personal health and improved work/life balance.
- They can provide training and consultations for managers and supervisors to address existing organizational concerns.
In general, EAPs are meant to improve the overall strength and functionality of every component within your workplace, including reducing absenteeism, accidents and workplace violence occurrences, turnover, and improving healthcare costs and team and individual performance.2
When implemented and utilized, EAPs can have a significant return on investment. The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that for every dollar invested in an EAP, employers typically save anywhere from $5 to $16.3
Why employers are becoming increasingly focused on improving employees’ physical and mental health.
As the primary funder of healthcare for your employees, most employers agree that reducing employee health risks, reducing healthcare costs and improving employee productivity top the list of wellness program objectives.4
By reducing the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in their population, employers can start to regain control over their healthcare and disability costs.
According to the World Health Organization, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide.5 A recent study stated that one in five adults will experience a diagnosable mental illness within any given year—and more than half of those individuals will go untreated.
The good news is that treatment works: 80% of employees treated for mental illness reported improved levels of work efficacy and satisfaction.6
When you combine the costs and risks associated with chronic illness and mental health and the ROI potential, implementing and encouraging the utilization of both an EAP and a comprehensive employee wellness program is an obvious choice.
Why EAPs remain underutilized.
Effective EAPs and wellness programs facilitate improved physical and mental health, which, in turn, benefits the individual employee’s quality of life and workplace functioning.
So, it isn’t a question of why employers are becoming increasingly more focused on employee mental and physical well-being, but, instead, how can we improve participation in these programs?
Studies have shown that a major reason EAPs remain underutilized is due to the inability to effectively communicate their value and impact. In 2004, the National Business Group on Health organized a committee to better understand this issue.
They found that despite the efforts made to improve access to these benefits, how they are deployed and advertised to employees is consistently lacking in both scope and breadth. As a result, the EAP services are often fragmented, uncoordinated and even duplicative.
While companies continue to emphasize the importance of EAPs and wellness programs, finding effective methods of introducing and encouraging the use of these benefits must remain at the forefront of the movement to improve employee well-being.
Three steps to increase EAP utilization.
1. Assess the needs of your employees to determine services to offer.
Overcoming EAP underutilization and improving employee access to the available benefits starts with a workplace wellness assessment.
A workplace wellness assessment enables you to identify health factors that impact employees to help you determine which specific services best benefit your entire organization.
The scope of the program you choose will depend on four key factors:
- Number of employees
- Demographic (race, gender, age, education, income level, etc.)
From there, analyze the specific causes of claims and absenteeism within your organization. Combine those findings with the most commonly identified EAP use cases (below) to formulate which programs best suit your employees’ individual needs.
A recent survey from the Family Work Institute showed that employees accessed EAPs most often for workplace stress and relationship issues:
2. Integrate your EAP with the wellness program, health plan and other employee benefits.
Once you construct your organization’s EAP, integrating it with your wellness program, health plan and other employee benefits is the next step.
Make it easy for employees to find resources associated with the EAP by including information in new hire documents, open enrollment meetings, and organization-wide communications and intranets.
Then, facilitate a seamless transition between services by partnering with vendors who gather the necessary knowledge about other programs so that employees feel supported on all fronts.
For example, a more informed coach or nutritionist in the wellness program can point an employee to ample resources (and show them where to find them) within the health plan and EAP, leading to an improved employee experience and better follow through on potential diagnosis and treatment.
3. Educate employees about the services offered and maintain a supportive culture.
Provide continued education for your employees regarding available EAP services throughout the year, while also facilitating an environment in which the stigmas of mental health are consistently addressed and normalized.
Be sure to communicate to employees that all EAP inquiries and any services they provide to an employee is completely confidential.
Incorporate training for managers to aid them in better understanding the intricacies of your organization’s EAP and the best method of referring employees, as well as handling current and potential challenges more effectively.
When done well, your employees will have the knowledge needed to request assistance and the bravery required to face the challenges ahead.
Achieving a workforce that is mentally & physically well starts with a tailored employee wellness program.
The best employee assistance programs are those that are integrated into your organizational culture and help employees balance every aspect of their life.
Learn more about a comprehensive, integrated solution for your workplace wellness needs with a Cleveland Clinic | Bravo wellness program plus Lifestyle EAP – a non-traditional employee assistance program with a focus on prevention and clinical excellence.
1Absence and Disability Readiness Index, The Standard, 2019.
2Center for Prevention and Health Services. An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs. Accessed August 29, 2019. https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/?id=F31372A2-2354-D714-51E4-AE4127CED552.
3U.S. Department of Labor, What Works: Workplaces without Drugs. (1990), p.17
4Optum. Beyond ROI: Building employee health & wellness value of investment. Accessed September 5, 2019.
5World Health Organization. Accessed October 16, 2019. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
6Center for workplace Mental Health. Investing in a mentally healthy workforce is good for business. Accessed August 29, 2019. http://workplacementalhealth.org/Making-The-Business-Case.