Small business owners can't afford a sustained drop in employee productivity, simply because they don’t have hordes of other workers to take up the slack when someone has a problem that disrupts their performance. All sorts of issues can affect an individual’s output, from concerns about planning for retirement to dealing with a rebellious teenager to coordinating care for an aging parent.
What if you could find a way to help your employees through those tough times and still keep productivity humming? Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can fill the gap. Legal services, substance abuse counseling and guidance on relationships and family matters are just a handful of the areas that EAPs cover.
Supporting Employees, Protecting Productivity
In a small business, it’s easy to forget that problems can go beyond and run much deeper than the surface issues that everyone already knows about. But according to Marie Apke, chief operating officer at Chicago-based EAP provider Bensinger, Dupont & Associates, there may be things happening behind the scenes that quietly chip away at employees’ productivity.
"Even though you may not think someone has a problem, you can be sure there are people coming to work who have a variety of personal issues that impact their job performance," says Apke.
A well-crafted employee assistance plan can help employees deal with the ever-changing dynamics of families, finances, and other pressures. Apke offers these tips on what small business owners should consider when looking for an EAP program that suits their needs.
A Quick Guide to Choosing a Small Business EAP
1. Make confidentiality a priority
If you want employees to feel comfortable using an EAP, they need know their participation is confidential. This is doubly important in a small business, where close familiarity often breaks down the usual barriers between work and personal issues. Apke says there are solutions out there that speak directly to these concerns.
"We’re very careful about the reports we give to smaller employers, because if you have 15 people in an organization and I gave you the gender, the type of problem and the age, the company can figure out who that is," she explains. Small businesses may opt for annual rather than quarterly reports, to lessen the granularity of the data they receive. In addition, an EAP provider can often aggregate details—such as the age or gender of participants—to expose less personally-identifiable information.
2. Focus on crucial services
When offering an EAP, Apke says it’s important to include the right services. "Make sure the provider offers a 24-hour telephone response, and that they conduct confidential assessments, counseling, referrals and onsite critical incidents," she explains, adding that onsite or web-based training is also a valuable feature.
Substance abuse expertise is another critical component of any EAP. Apke says the issue "plays such a big role in decreased employee productivity that we really want to make sure the folks working in the EAP understand substance abuse and its impact."
3. Look for EAP coverage in unconventional places
It’s often difficult for small businesses to find affordable EAP options. Fortunately, less-traditional routes could offer viable alternatives. "See if there’s an EAP available through your long-term disability carrier or through your life insurance carrier," Apke suggests. If your company belongs to a consortium or to another small business organization, that association may offer an EAP as part of a group insurance line.
Another possibility is to find a carrier that offers package-type coverage that includes a set number of sessions and services. "Definitely look at how you can bundle the services to get the best cost advantage," says Apke.
4. Contract with a provider who truly understands EAPs
Services rendered as part of an EAP go beyond traditional counseling, and it’s important that providers know how to meet the needs of the employees as well as the employer. "When you’re in one-on-one counseling, the therapist focuses on the individual sitting in that chair," says Apke.
But that isn’t always the case in an EAP. Union issues, safety concerns, and the requirements of regulated industries could all factor into the equation. Apke says that providers within the EAP network should "understand the role of an EAP, and understand there’s a different focus than you normally have with an individual therapy situation."
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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