Need Help? Use Your Employee Assistance Program!

Need Help? Use Your Employee Assistance Program!
By Kerry Knapp
Monster Contributing Writer

“About 20% of the working population has issues that are serious enough that they interfere with workplace performance. The idea is to tackle them early, and not wait until the problem has a visible impact on their work.”

As CEO of Homewood Employee Health, an organization that has been providing comprehensive employee assistance programs (EAPs) for over 27 years, Fran Pilon knows what she’s talking about.

For those of you not familiar with EAPs, also called “Employee and Family Assistance Plans” or EFAPs, I called Pilon to find out how they work and what employees should know.

What Exactly is an EAP?

An EAP is a confidential, short-term, counselling service for employees experiencing difficulties. It is usually funded by your employer and provided by an external organization, or occasionally by a department within your company.

Perhaps surprisingly, problems referred to an EAP do not have to be caused by workplace issues or even affect workplace performance.

“EAPs help resolve any personal problem,” says Pilon. “Over the years, the scope of problems has greatly expanded. Now EAPs address parenting, legal advice, how to remain healthy and deal with stress, even advice on managing money.”

Asked to name the top three issues, Pilon was quick to answer. “Relationships! Relationships with spouses, children or family members. Next comes depression, a growing concern. People are having trouble coping with stress, anxiety and depression. Those two areas alone account for 50% to 60% of all cases. In third place would be parenting issues, coping with teenagers, children, etc.”

Employee difficulties may also include job stress, eldercare, harassment, substance abuse, separation and loss, balancing work and family, legal problems and family violence, to name just a few.

How Does it Work?

In most cases, employees are given a phone number to call when they need assistance. The person who answers, known as the referral agent, customer service rep or intake worker, is extensively trained and familiar with community resources, including social, financial and mental health services, psychologists and so on.

As Pilon told me, “The intake worker’s job is to assess the issue and its urgency, and then refer the caller to a counsellor, social worker or program. Counsellors usually provide short-term counselling (one to five sessions).”

Should the client’s issue require specialized mental health therapy or longer-term counselling, clients are referred to the appropriate professional. EAPs also offer immediate consultations in crisis situations.

The goal is to help employees identify and clarify issues they are facing, provide resources to help them solve their problems, and train them to develop coping skills. Ultimately, the aim is to produce a healthier, happier employee and restore productivity in the workplace.

Will Your Employer Know You Called?

Client confidentiality is key to the success of any EAP, and every precaution is taken to ensure that employees’ superiors never know they called.

Obviously, EAPs report back to employers on program usage statistics as well as any important general workplace issues. Pilon explains: “EAPs may report trends involving stress levels to employers so they can put policies and procedures in place to bring levels down. They may do the same if shift work is causing major tensions or if concerns about job security have spiked.”

“However, all personal data is kept totally confidential,” she continues. “Aside from a few situations where disclosure is legally required, such as when an employee’s life is at risk, employees can use the EAP without their employer ever knowing.”

So Where Do You Find One?

About 80% of Canadian employers have an EAP. If you’re employed, check with your superior or HR department to see if you—and your family—have access to an EAP.

If you’re looking for work, Pilon says an EAP is a benefit that job seekers should seek out. “Providing a resource employees can use to keep themselves healthy is a symbol of how much employers care for their employees.”

Either way, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. From time to time, we all can use a helping hand.