The theme for this month came from a real-world situation that brought home the value of an easily overlooked benefit — employee assistance programs. In fact, I’ve overlooked mentioning EAPs in this column even though management of our EAP service at Mutual of Omaha is one of my responsibilities. Our EAP provides services, which we market alongside our disability and life products, to over a million people, covering a broad range of employers and a national footprint.
It’s easy to think of EAP services in the traditional way. For years, EAPs have provided eligible employees and their dependents services related to personal and family issues as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The EAP menu of services can include 24/7 telephone access to EAP professionals, web toolkits, print and online resource materials, face-to-face visits with a counselor, translation services, grief counseling, and many other services.
But in today’s world, EAP services have evolved. For one thing, the value of EAP services is amplified whenever there’s a traumatic event.
Recent events in Boston and West/Waco, Texas caused all of us to think of other events like 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing and so on. There are natural disasters to deal with, as well — from springtime flooding in the Midwest to Hurricane Sandy, which just a few months ago devastated a broad swath of the East Coast. It seems that every week, somewhere in the U.S., people are stressed by external events. And there also are personal stress points to consider, such as family illness or death, divorce, and financial issues.
In the EAP world, much more than usual, traumatic events prompt people look for resources to help cope with stress and worry. Providing tools and services to help is part of the mission of the EAP area, so we immediately placed some resources on the front page of our EAP customer web site and sent information to our sales offices, especially those in Boston and Texas, so they could alert brokers to these services.
Examples of the types of resources include community web sites for the local area, Red Cross services and other external resources. EAPs provide tips on coping, preparing a family for disaster, and techniques to help employees build personal resiliency.
Employers and brokers also know that EAP services can help keep employees more engaged and productive. Providing employees with resources that reduce stress will directly reduce presenteeism and the lost time it represents. EAP services can also help employees avoid the need for going out on disability due to mental and nervous system issues.
I’m constantly amazed at the variety of situations addressed by members of our EAP team, and the breadth of their services. For example, in the past few months, in addition to helping members deal with the events noted above, we have had some special situations. For one, we developed a resource to add pre-college financial planning services to our program for a major customer, because they had a number of employees concerned with that stage of the life cycle.
We provided on-call services to employees in several situations where the economy has forced employers to cut back and furlough staff. We even provided on-location services to a client that had a gunpoint robbery in one of their locations. Whatever the situation that stresses or depresses employees and their families — don’t overlook EAPs and the valuable role they provide.