Small business and EAP: What benefits they can offer

EAPs help workers address issues that create stress and occupy their time and attention. Think of it as an investment in business continuity, where the ROI is employee productivity.

What do small businesses gain from EAPs?

Everyone goes through tough times. But when an employee of a small business is distracted by or dealing with personal issues, it can affect the entire team. Over time, one employee’s difficulty striking a work-life balance can create a cycle of stress that undermines the health, productivity and morale of the team.

According to a study (link opens in new window) from The National Small Business Association and Humana, 42 percent of small business owners say high stress levels concern them the most when it comes to overall productivity of their business and employee health.1 And when asked what health and wellness programs they would be most likely to invest in, stress management was the top response (26 percent).

However, while small businesses may be more familial, when considering employee benefit plans it’s still the bottom line that heavily influences – if not determines — most decisions.

Right-sized Resources for Any Size Organization

For businesses of any size, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide valuable resources for employers and employees confronting a variety of challenges. These confidential services help employees address issues that create stress and occupy their time and attention, including professional and personal/family matters.

“Consider an employee who’s struggling to find a home health aide for his mother. Between the time involved and the mental stress, he’s not as focused at work,” explains Dr. Randy Martin, director of the Employee Assistance Program for Humana Wellness. “We try to de-stigmatize the service so that people feel like they can call for everyday stress,” says Martin. Common stressors often include:

  • Time management
  • Caring for parents or children
  • Support for life events, such as adoption or divorce
  • Financial issues

Employees don’t need referrals or co-pays to take advantage of EAP resources. Sessions are on the phone or in person, depending on the employer’s plan. Once the initial contact is made, the EAP professional can also help the employee find follow-up services, such as credit counseling or a continuing therapist.

Employers can add program elements depending on the needs of their workforce. Typical EAPs offer a host of services such as:

  • Phone support supplemented with online videos and webinars around topics such as financial planning and stress management
  • Resource finders for childcare and other services
  • Online calculators for retirement planning and saving for college

How an EAP Helps Small Businesses

One common assumption is that only large companies have the resources to provide EAPs, but that’s not true. In fact, for small businesses, EAPs can mean the difference between meeting productivity goals and falling short due to employee health or well-being issues.

“In some ways EAPs serve human resources functions. For smaller organizations that often don’t have dedicated HR professionals or departments, this can be particularly beneficial,” says Martin. “We help managers and supervisors and business owners resolve problems that their employees – and business—are experiencing.”

In the case of a chronically tardy worker, for example, a manager might seek guidance from an EAP professional on how to handle the situation to avoid confrontation. An EAP professional can also help resolve tension among employees by offering solutions to mitigate the problem, or working one-on-one with employees to address their issues.

A Return on Investment

It helps to consider an EAP as an investment in business continuity. “The biggest return on investment is that we help employees to be more productive,” says Peter McPherson, Humana clinical advisor, Behavioral Health, Experience Delivery EAP/Work-Life. “Whatever it is the employee is trying to do, EAP resources can assist – or in some cases even do it for the employee—and that saves time, which allows the employee to focus on his work.”

Martin says that because the program is free, people are more willing to call at the onset of an issue, as it’s developing, before it’s spiraled out of control. “If you can catch depression, for example, early on before it escalates to later stages, then you might be able to prevent an employee from going on medical leave of absence and disappearing entirely from the workforce,” he explains. “With smaller employers, that’s pretty valuable because they rely on a small group of people to do many important jobs.”

Common Misconceptions About EAPs

One common misconception is that EAPs are difficult to navigate. In large companies and industries with union affiliations, for example, there’s generally a high level of EAP engagement because unions actively encourage their members to tap into these benefits. As McPherson explains, “When it comes to smaller companies, what we’ve seen is that the more employers promote the EAP, the more their workers will engage and tap the program when necessary.”

Small companies depend on the full engagement of their entire staff. Even a short-term absence of a single employee can have a ripple effect on the workload, the business, and workplace stress. Presenteeism, being on the job but not fully functioning, can have just as significant an impact on productivity and morale.

Whether an employee is distracted by a family member’s hospitalization, or a business owner is seeking guidance on how to address the problem, EAP offers a solution for both. EAP resources can help business owners and their employees move one step closer to achieving better overall workplace well-being.

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