Companies turn to EAPs

Sylvia Porter

October 16, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Do you need help with a financial, legal, domestic or mental health problem? Concerned about drug addiction, your career, alcoholism, adoption, AIDS, day care, dependent care, hyperactive children, stress, gambling, grief due to a death, marital relations and the like?

Until recently, these concerns were considered personal problems that belonged outside the workplace.

Now, however, more than one-third of the nation's workers can dial a number for employer-paid, confidential counseling and referral services, says Richard Bickerton of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association of Arlington, Va.

Early on, when EAPs came on the scene, they dealt only with alcoholism problems. Now EAPs provide help on virtually anything that affects your performance on the job.

"A comprehensive service that costs employers only $2 to $3 per month per employee lowers insurance costs and reduces absenteeism, accidents and turnover," says Jesse Bernstein, president of Employee Assistance Associates, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Traditional employee benefits programs cover physical illness and disabilities, but few offer comprehensive mental health or help with other contemporary life-management concerns," says Ronald Moreland of Managed Health Network of Los Angeles.

Moreland believes the onset of recession in the U.S. economy "will impose an increasing feeling of uncertainty on employees," making a confidential source of help even more essential.

Companies find that when employees use an EAP early, while the problem is still manageable, there are fewer referrals that require use of benefits.

At Employee Assistance Associates, whose programs promote calling its counselors early, only about half of the calls to counselors requires the use of benefits.

Bernstein says that the seriousness and range of a company president's personal problems often determine whether or not an EAP is established and what range of services is offered.

More employers are setting up EAPs because they want to lower their health coverage costs.

Troubled employees cost American companies about $100 billion per year in absenteeism, accidents and errors, sick leave and health insurance benefits, according to the Bureau of National Affairs.

Between 60 to 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies use EAPs and many smaller companies do, too, the Employee Assistance Professionals Association reports.

Managed Health Network counts Dow Jones, GTE and Ford Motor Company among its clients. Employee Assistance Associates Inc. serves large companies, but also some with as few as 10 employees.

Earlier this year McDonnell Douglas reported a major study that showed its EAP saved $4 in health claims and absentee rates for every dollar it spent. Employees treated for substance abuse through managed mental health programs missed 44 percent fewer workdays, had 81 percent less attrition and filed $7,300 less in individual health care claims than workers who did not have such programs available.

Some companies still prefer to deal with problems themselves. These are the companies that keep giving troubled employees "one last chance," compounding the problem, says Bernstein. Others have the anachronistic belief that "they shouldn't be concerned with employees' personal lives." Still others automatically reject suggestions to establish an EAP by responding, "We don't hire alcoholics." This, Bernstein says, can signal an alcoholism problem in the executive suite.

Companies that need an EAP the most, he adds, have high absenteeism and high "on-the-job absenteeism." For manufacturing companies, he comments, "the need for an EAP can be indicated by high numbers of rejects and mounting scrap piles."

1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Times Mirror Square

Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

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