What is an EAP?

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By , Small Business Pulse

Mental illness is a genuine problem in both society and in the workplace. Everyone, employers included, needs to take part in addressing these conditions. To combat the effects of stress and mental illness, employers should consider offering an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, which helps workers learn coping strategies to feel less strain at work and in their lives.

What is an EAP?
An EAP offers counseling to workers who may feel the effects of anxiety, depression, workplace stress or addiction. Many small businesses do not have the same resources as larger companies. However, with an EAP, workers can at get mental health benefits in addition to other company perks. Like health insurance, employers must select an EAP best suited to their employees. Many of these programs offer low or no-cost counseling to workers. Such programs help workers overcome stress and more serious conditions that may affect their work performance.

Why is an EAP important?
Workplace stress is a problem for both employers and their workers. A majority of employees who experience stress report that it negatively affects both their performance and work quality. When it comes to emotional strain, dealing with mental health issues becomes an employer's responsibility when the stress causes workplace problems. Mental Health America's Workplace Health Survey revealed people often missed work from stress, and more than half of the respondents took off six or more days a month, almost a third of their work days. Without a way to address mental health issues, from stress to depression, absenteeism will continue to be a problem for employees.

An EAP gives workers an outlet for stress. Ideally, through the EAP, employees will learn healthier skills for dealing with their mental troubles and take less time off work. In addition to offering important coping strategies, EAP counselors charge workers little to nothing in expenses. Low-cost counseling removes the financial excuses for not seeking help. While EAP does provide short-term help for workers, those with more serious issues may get referrals to therapists who will work with them over an extended time.

How to implement EAPs
With an EAP, workers can get the assistance they need to address personal issues that prevent them from being fully engaged at work. To make an EAP palatable to all workers, employers should frame the program as a means of not only addressing mental health concerns, but also as a source for resources for work-life balance and organizational services. Employers need to regularly monitor the EAP for participation and effectiveness. According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, a typical EAP for a company with 1,000 workers could see 45 counseling cases and 16 work-life service cases. If a program does not reach these numbers, the employer should reconsider how the EAP is promoted and its benefits.

EAPs can boost workplace productivity
Offering an Employee Assistance Program to workers can help increase their productivity and avoid the absenteeism and presenteeism that occur with excessive stress levels. When employers offer EAPs, they become part of the solution to America's mental health problem.