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Employee assistance programs explained

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Employee Assistance Programs Explained

Al Waller: At some point in our lives each of us faces problems that can be complicated to address and solve, especially when it comes to balancing work and life. So, where do you turn when these situations occur? Well, an employee assistance program might be just the ticket. As a matter of fact, a lot of employers offer these programs, yet their employees may not be fully aware of them and as a result, not taking advantage of them either.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I'm your host, Al Waller. With me today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert of nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, to share some of the unknown benefits and services that Employee Assistance Programs, commonly referred to as EAPs, can actually provide for workers. So Mihaela, could you begin by first defining what an employee assistance program is?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure, thing Al, but before I dive in, I just wanted to say that it's great to be back. So, what is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? Well, according to the Society for Human Resource Management or SHRM, an Employee Assistance Program provides resources that employees can use to find support or information for certain struggles they might be dealing with. This could range between anything – from caregiving needs and financial services all the way to mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and work issues.

Lots of EAPs also offer educational resources like information on healthy eating, strategies on building resiliency, as well as financial literacy. The services in an EAP vary and are provided as part of a larger benefits package provided to you by your employer – lots of times these benefits are actually available to you for free or at a reduced cost.

Al Waller: That's a great point. There are a host of benefits here, and as you've noted, they're either free or if not, at least on the affordable side.

Why don't we take a closer look at why EAPs might prove to be so beneficial.

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, and before we go into why they're so beneficial, I just want to begin by addressing a common misconception that some people might have – and that's that an EAP is a program for those who are underperforming or who need intervention.

Now, while the specifics of an individual program are identified in the plan’s benefit package, lots of EAPs provide support for issues of all magnitudes – ranging from everyday challenges to major life events. So, some of the resources you'll have access to are intended – simply for educational or awareness purposes – to make our lives a little easier.

To give an example, I used to have a coworker who was juggling work and caregiving for her grandmother. She had not had a vacation in a few years and was really feeling the effects of not getting a break. She actually learned about her company's EAP, which did the due diligence and referred her to not one, not two, but actually three highly reputable and properly credentialed agencies that she could then hire to care for her grandmother.

Having access to an EAP made it possible for her to find that needle in the haystack, and she was able to find someone to help her out with her grandmother – so that she could help herself out.

Al Waller: That's great to hear, Mihaela. As we've noted on past programs, a significant number of us are dealing with providing caregiving services for loved ones – and when you stack that on to maintaining your professional responsibilities/performance, it can make work life balance extremely challenging and overwhelming.

Well, there are a whole host of services and benefits featured within an EAP. Could you unpack and walk us through what may be included here?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, and there is a lot. You might be surprised to know that some of the services often included are – but are not limited to help with caregiving, like in the example I just shared.

An employee can get resources locating elder care or even daycare services and even help with locating nursing home care. They can also get assistance for legal services for issues like divorce, wills, and bankruptcy. Legal services might not be available for employment law though.

They can also get guidance on financial services like paying down debt, budgeting, improving credit scores as well as securing retirement. They can find help for work issues and get help with all types of behavioral health issues. They may also get help with family services like marriage counseling services, family planning, child safety and mediation, as well as counseling for issues like grief or loss, stress, worry, self-harm, and other issues such as substance abuse. These services are there to help provide support and guidance, as well as offer referrals.

Many EAPs also offer webinars and other resources that you can access on a wide array of topics. Actually, while researching the subject matter, I learned that my employer's EAP offers webinars on really cool topics, like mindful eating and creating healthy financial boundaries.

Al Waller: I think our listeners are all going to agree that's a very broad and comprehensive number of services to tap into, Mihaela. But I'm willing to bet a lot of people probably have no idea that they have all these offerings available. So, for those wondering, what are some of the benefits of an EAP?

Mihaela Vincze: Having support from an EAP can help us manage stress, feel good, and solve problems. I want to reiterate many of these services offered may also be available for free or even at a reduced cost.

Employee assistance programs can really help with stress management. We can leverage these EAPs to help us discover new ways to keep our stress levels down, especially during challenging times. An EAP can also help with navigating work-related issues and help you prevent or overcome burnout – and an EAP can help us achieve sufficient work-life balance. These are just some of the benefits an EAP can bring to your life. The list is really endless.

Al Waller: It sure seems that way. I think we can all agree that this is a very substantial grouping of benefits and what's nice about it is, they're free or come at a reasonable cost and alleviate stress on a variety of platforms – if you can’t function successfully at the workplace, that could lead to some pretty dire consequences down the road.

So, given their value who typically has access to an EAP?Mihaela Vincze: According to a Transamerica Institute survey, 29% of all employers offer an employee assistance program. This percentage actually jumps up to 65% for employers with over 500 employees. If you want to know if your employer offers an EAP, be sure to check out your specific employee benefits package.

Al Waller:  Then, how can someone access an EAP?

Mihaela Vincze: So, in the benefits package your employer gives you, you'll see if you're first offered an EAP. Once you determine that you are, you can find that the services offered are offered by a third -party organization. You would visit their website and create an account as well as enter an authorization code provided by your employer. Once you have an account, you can sign up for the services relevant to your specific needs and you can also peruse the many resources available, like I did.

First, if you're looking for counseling or for services of that nature, in-person care might be available, but it's not the only option. EAPs may also offer virtual services. For instance, if you want to still talk to a counselor, you might be able to do so through either a smartphone app, online, or by phone.

Al Waller: Well, that's great, especially the fact that there are multiple means for retrieving these types of services. Now, I think I know the answer here but for those wondering, are EAPs confidential?

Mihaela Vincze: EAPs are confidential. The program is administered by a third party, not by your employer. Names are not identified or reported without your consent, unless there are situations like a court order, a threat of harm to yourself and/or others, as well as elder or child abuse.

Al Waler: I think we can take comfort with this level of security. Any final thoughts before we call it a day, Mihaela?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, an employee assistance program is there to ensure that you can manage curveballs that life throws your way, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. When we feel our best, we can be our best – and whether that's at work or in the world, it's just great that this resource might be available.

Al Waller: Great points, Mihaela, and as always, great to have you with us.

We hope you'll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episodes on avoiding financial avoidance and health savings accounts. Also, in case you missed it, check out our previous episodes on Avoiding Surprises in Your Medical Bills and Aging in Place: Growing Older at Home.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

If you have comments or feedback, please reach out to [email protected]. Have a topic you’d like to learn more about? Send us ideas.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.