Employee assistance programs are voluntary benefit programs that employers can offer that provide interventions for workers who are suffering personal, financial or emotional problems. The thinking behind EAPs is that workers who have problems at home don’t perform as well at work, so they provide workers with access to financial management, marital counseling or substance abuse support.
The specific benefits offered by an EAP will vary based on the plan, but Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas worries that most workers don’t understand their company’s EAP, if it’s even offered.
“Just because you have an EAP definitely does not mean you have the problem covered,” she said.
Businesses that offer an EAP to their employees need to make sure workers understand how it works and what it covers, and give workers a personal contact rather than just a phone number.
“Often they’re very frightened by people who come in the door experiencing suicidal thoughts,” she said. “Because they don’t have training and it’s scary, they tend to just refer” workers to someone else, which can compound the problem.
When selecting an EAP, Spencer-Thomas recommends business owners ask very specific questions about the benefits the plan offers, especially around mental health and suicide intervention: what kind of training has the provider had, what is the referral policy, how does the plan interact with a company health plan.
“There are a bunch of problems that with a few kicks of the tires can be fixed or at least dealt with.”