By Ruth Bowdish, MSPsy, LICDC, CEAP, SAP
In a manufacturing facility in northeast Ohio, a husband and father of four walks the floors of a plant he spends more time at than his own home.
He knows where he’s going, he knows each step it takes to get to his station, and he knows who he’ll pass on his way. He knows Jimmy, whose wife just had a baby. The dark circles under his colleague’s eyes make him chuckle softly as he remembers those days so well. He nods to his supervisor, who returns the greeting. This man knows his job of two decades. He doesn’t cause problems and gets along with just about everyone. After an hour or two of work, he takes his first break and walks to the nearby restroom. Inside a stall, he rolls up his sleeve and sees the scar tissue from many years of use. He gets out his needle, pre-filled, and within just a few minutes, heads back to work.
He knows that within a couple of hours, he will be back in the stall again.
A woman, close to retirement age, sits in a car in the employee parking lot. She stares ahead, memories of her past running together. Tears stream down her face as she realizes, for the hundredth time, there will be no more memories like these because her husband died four months ago. She tells herself she should be over it by now, that the pain in her chest should have eased, but she just can’t seem to get past this. She grabs her purse to put on fresh makeup and a smile, takes a deep breath and opens the car door to walk into the office.
The arguing can be heard three houses down, it’s become a nightly occurrence at this point. It sounded like something hit the wall again. As the front door opens, the neighbors can see a tall, middle-aged man storm out to his truck, yelling the whole way. In the doorframe stands his wife, screaming about him working midnights and leaving her to deal with the house and the kids alone. He shouts that he’s late for work as he throws the truck into reverse and peels out, knocking over a trash can on his way. At the stop sign the next road over, he reaches into the console and pulls out a fifth of whiskey. Just a few sips before work, and he will be OK, he tells himself. The shaking will stop.
Scenarios like these are playing out in the American workforce every day. Millions of people are going to work while battling something no one else knows about. Many employees successfully hide the stress and emotional turmoil they face away from work — but only for a while. What happens when these situations become too much to handle? When we can’t focus, and we become overwhelmed? Often our work begins to tell the signs of our struggle long before our mouths ever will.
Many companies, organizations and businesses have implemented employee assistance programs to help employees who are struggling. Our job as EAPs is to help individuals get back on track when life throws them a curveball. Many people are doing just fine. They have processing skills, a good social support network and coping mechanisms in place to help buffer against the negative occurrences in life. Other times, we see those who are truly struggling with mental health or substance use disorders and require the help of licensed professionals to diagnose, treat and possibly medicate.
WHAT IS AN EAP?
Employee Assistance Programs help shine a light on employees who function somewhere in the middle. They aren’t diagnosable, but they aren’t okay, either. An EAP is a bridge that will help with the skills and insight, tools and referrals to get people back to where they need to be. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work-sponsored program that offers employees confidential assessments; temporary or short-term counseling, when appropriate; referrals, if needed; and follow-up services to address problems at home or on the job. EAPs deal with myriad issues, including alcohol or substance use, stress, family troubles, grief, and basically anything that affects an employee’s mental and emotional well-being.
EAPs also create an environment of increased communication for employers. As consultants to an HR department or to management, EAP counselors also work to address business or organizational struggles and employee needs. Through training, policy development, and one-on-one consultation, an EAP professional is your partner when it matters most. It is not unusual to see EAPs actively helping employers and employees to cope with critical issues, and workplace violence, instilling preventative measures and helping handle certain urgent response situations. Enlisting the services of an EAP should be at no cost to the employee. This is a 100% work-sponsored service.
While insurance isn’t billed for this service, many employer plans include EAP availability. Please check with your insurance provider to see if this is something available to you. Employers also have the choice of selecting their own EAP service that fits the needs they have. Another option is to hire your own internal EAP. Hiring a provider in-house means they could adapt to the organizational climate and offer services closely aligned with your goals. No matter which option you choose, you should assess the needs of your employees before moving forward.
To successfully launch an EAP in your business or organization, you need to assess and identify what your employees will benefit most from. Starting with a survey of employees and management is a good place to start. Are you seeing high turnover rates? Are employees disengaged? Are there high rates of disciplinary action being taken? There are many factors that play out on the job that can lead to low morale on all levels. Once a survey has been completed, review the answers with the EAP professional, and discuss the best way to move forward. Once you start the program, expect the need to pivot. The program can remain fluid as you figure out what works best. Even after you engage in a program, you should re-assess what’s working and what’s not so you can support your team effectively. Also, one of the best ways to get employees to engage with this service is to encourage supervisors to engage first. Employees will need to have trust in the program. They will question if it is truly confidential, and for any EAP to work, confidentiality cannot be compromised. Remember your employees and your organization are unique; look at your industry, the required work pace, community resources and even environmental factors all of which can play a role in
creating a successful program.
When a program is in place, there are two ways for an employee to engage in the services. Either through a self-referral or through a management referral. For self-referrals, companies often are not notified the service has been used – or at least not by whom because these issues are usually of a more personal nature. When an employee’s work performance has been affected, HR or a supervisor may request the intervention of an EAP. Even with this type of referral, the information provided to the employer will be short and precise to maintain the integrity of confidentiality.
Remember the goal of the EAP is to create more sustainable workforces with consistency and care for the individuals themselves. It takes a lot of pieces to make a company whole, and an EAP helps to put those pieces together. No matter which direction you go with for your program, never forget why it’s important. For the person battling addiction, for the ones dealing with grief daily, for the ones drowning in stress, an EAP literally can be a lifesaver. An employer may be the only one who’s able to give them the tools they need to survive another day. Investing in an EAP means investing in your most important resource – your employees.