According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an Employee Assistance Plan is an employment sponsored program that provides various benefits and referrals for personal and work related problems. Depending on the industry and company, some EAPs play an active role consulting with managers and helping employees.

A Brief History of EAPs

EAPs began during the 1940s with only services to treat alcohol abuse affecting job performances. Through the years, this narrow scope has grown to include various personal issues that negatively impact job performance. During the 1970’s there was tremendous growth in EAP services as companies started to focus on proactively helping their employees deal with workplace issues that can lead to physical problems, mental health issues and workplace violence and morale decline.

Almost all Fortune 500 companies offer their employees EAPs that deliver a variety of health referrals and productivity services. EAP programs employ professionals who provide short-term preventive services and problem-resolution services to individual employees and their families. They also provide consultations with management regarding employee and organizational performance. When unexpected events or disasters occur, such as bankruptcies and major accidents, they are called to serve as behavioral consultants.

Health and Productivity Problems

Employees in modern workplaces face a variety of health and productivity challenges. Intense stress, health issues, stagnant productivity and poor employee engagement are major concerns of employers everywhere. This results in increased absenteeism rates and more claims for short-term disability and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits. Stress is the universal concern for managers and mental health and substance-use problems continue to be a leading cause of illness and lost productivity.

These mental health conditions are quite common, such as depression and sleep problems, while substance use is usually related to alcohol or marijuana. All of these factors affect business operations and employee performance by decreasing productivity and increasing unplanned absences. Most of these are actually preventable and modifiable through internal controls. Additional problems experienced include lifestyle risks, chronic medical conditions and presenteeism, which refers to employees who work while they are sick.

Employee Advocacy

It is very challenging for companies to implement successful strategies to reduce the negative effects of chronic stress factors. Many employees experience intense stress through a combination of problems in their personal lives, long commutes, financial issues and familiar requirements. As working parents must spend more time at work and commuting, they have less personal time to deal with children, ailing parents and personal hobbies. However, there are proven methods that EAPs use to encourage employee engagement, refer employees to services and implement workplace stress management programs.

EAPs financially benefit employers by reducing workplace absenteeism, unplanned long-term absences, workplace accidents, employee turnover and related replacement costs. They help to reduce health care costs for both employees and the employer. EAPs help to implement wellness programs, health promotion initiatives and self-care training. EAPs also minimize business risks by reducing the likelihood of workplace violence, safety issues and other stressful incidents such mergers, acquisitions and site closures.

An Employee Assistance Plan is a private program that employers use to help their employees and protect their company.