John is a 43-year-old man. He works at one of the top investment firms in the country. As far as his supervisors are concerned, John works very hard and his clients love him. Over the past 3 years, John has managed to bring in the most number of investors for the organisation, year on year. In the office, John is friendly and shares an occasional laugh with all his colleagues. One would describe John as the ideal employee right? Wrong. This perfect employee is also a chronic alcoholic.
Due to the demands of his job and the need to always be on top of his game, John has sunk into a toxic relationship with alcohol. In the office, he uses any opportunity he gets to take a drink. No one knows about this addiction, but in truth, John is struggling. He has often contemplated suicide due to the need to always be the best. John is one example of the many employees who are facing personal problems that they may not talk about, but that are affecting them, and their performance in the workplace.
Employee assistance programs
French et. al., (2011) define employee assistance programs as job-based programs designed to identify and assist troubled employees. When these programs were designed in the 1940s, the objective was to help employees who abused alcohol to deal with personal problems, and this was later on expanded in the 1970s in efforts to assist with a range of personal problems interfering with performance on the job. Today, employee assistance programs include a wide range of benefits including programs to deal with relationships, depression, financial counselling and other psycho/social issues that may affect employee productivity. They are designed to reduce risks, cut costs, and enhance employee productivity.
Examples of employee assistance programs
According to Attridge (2009), “…employees with untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders can lead to problems for their employers, such as poor customer relations, absenteeism, diminished work quality and performance, on-the-job accidents and disability claims, work-group morale issues and turnover.” According to Kleiman, (2000) the employee assistance program at Apple offers fitness facilities, health education, and preventative medicine. Below are some of employee assistance programs offered by Apple:
- A smoking cessation program
- Seminars on nutrition and weight management
- Health assessments that measure blood pressure and resting pulse
- Fitness evaluations that assess cardiopulmonary fitness level, strength, flexibility, body composition, and nutritional status
- Medical examinations that include physical exams and exercise strength tests to determine cardiovascular fitness
Benefits of employee assistance programs
In today’s economy, employee assistance programs possibly decrease absenteeism, reduce medical claims costs, and improve employee productivity, recruitment, and retention. The challenge in today’s world has mostly been health care costs. These programs, for example, exercise programs and weight management, not only improve the health of employees but brings about awareness of wellness issues and promoting a healthier lifestyle which benefits both the employee and employer. Below are some of the benefits of employee wellness programs:
Lower medical claims
A study of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, a helicopter company, revealed that employee medical claims per case averaged $715 less for EAP clients than for non-clients (Stuart, 1993)
The National Institutes of Mental Health reports that 66% of all terminations are personal-problem related rather than job-related (Gaston, 2002). Furthermore, a good employee may choose to leave a job to deal with overwhelming personal issues. Employee assistance programs are there to assist employees so that they may not be overwhelmed and will be able to do their jobs well.
Reduced absenteeism and sick leave
A 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey BY Harris Interactive, found that the average per-employee absenteeism cost $789 per year (Schneyer, 2002). Most of the absenteeism incidents were due to other reasons that were not an illness. An employee assistance program facilitates for quick resolution of personal problems, allowing employees to focus on work rather than family problems and mental health issues.
Increase employee productivity
A study by the Chevron Corporation reported a 50% improvement in employee performance after supervisors referred them to an employee assistance program (Collins, 1998).
Organizations that use employee assistance programs have shown improvements in worker health, functioning, productivity, and performance. They also have seen significant reductions in absenteeism, medical benefits costs, disability and worker's compensation claims, workplace accidents, and employee turnover (Kleiman, 2000). As an organization, it is important to consider investing in an employee assistance program today. This will help in addressing some of the productivity issues that may be found in the company and improve the wellbeing of employees.
Lindah Mavengere is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.
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