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 Dependence, 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...