Should Financial Wellness be a Core Component of an Employee Assistance Program?
When determining the components of an Employee Assistance Program, it’s important to look at what exactly this program can encompass. As defined, “An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.” In short, an EAP is essentially a form of a wellness program.
Employee Assistance Program vs. Employee Wellness Program
With that said, there are slight differences between an Employee Assistance Program and an Employee Wellness Program (EWP). The former is geared more towards tackling professional and personal problems that may arise. However, the latter focuses on any activity that is designed to support better overall health at work, or any activity to improve health outcomes.
While 97% of all firms report offering an Employee Assistance Program, the average utilization of these EAPs only sits at around 5.5%. On top of these numbers, 69% of organizations that have over 50 employees offer some form of a wellness program on top of an EAP, with 75% of those organizations offering incentive programs to ensure employee participation.
Despite the similarities between assistance programs and wellness programs, there are two key differences in regards to how they are viewed by employees:
- Wellness program may seem more proactive
- Employee Assistance Program may seem more reactive or crisis-driven, which doesn’t appeal to everyone
What is Included in an Employee Assistance Program?
While EAPs differ from company to company, on a broad scale they address a number of complex issues that affect the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Some of the more prominent of those issues, however, are as follows:
- Mental Health: This is a serious issue that can weigh on your employees. Some companies opt to bring in short-term counseling professionals who can be reached by phone at any time, and are there to support employees.
- Family Services: Many EAPs include options that can help employees to find daycare options for children or even elderly care if it’s needed.
- Health and Caregiving: Along the same lines as family services, health and caregiving options are available to members of EAPs at some companies. These services can help bring peace of mind to employees who have obligations in their personal lives.
- Substance Abuse: While this is an issue that employees may not be willing to discuss openly, options and meetings are available via EAPs that can help afflicted employees get the help they need.
What is Included in an Employee Wellness Program?
As discussed, an EWP is not the exact same as an EAP and focuses more on broader programs that contribute to ensuring employee health and safety. Specifically speaking, there are a few common items included in such programs:
- Fitness Activities: Providing options to help keep your employees in the best shape possible, such as offering on-site gyms or exercise classes, is a great option to add into a wellness program.
- General Health: Good healthcare can be hard to come by, so it is extremely important to consider offering health checkups or resources. A survey found that 61% of companies who participated in the study offered health risk assessments for their employees.
- Community Service Activities: Work can sometimes be seen as boring and taxing on employee’s energy. To counter this, fostering bonding among your employees with community service activities can help bring everyone together.
- Team Building Activities: On the topic of keeping your employees socially content, team-building activities are great strategies, and offering options that can build new bonds between your workers will help to build a cohesive team.
- Mental Health & Stress-Release Activities: As discussed under the EAP section, mental health and stress can arise in the workplace. Some companies choose to provide exclusive, more relaxing stress-relieving services to their employees, such as on-site massages, to help loosen these burdens.
The Missing Common Denominator
While an Employee Assistance Program and Employee Wellness Program can differ drastically, there is one thing that often is neglected in both: financial wellness.
A common reason for offering these programs in the first place is to reduce stress. Why do we have stress? Many times, it’s because of personal finances.
Finances are one of the leading causes of stress in employees today. Not offering any programs that tackle this issue first, can lead to burnt out employees, and second, can lead to underutilized EAP or EWP programs that HR has worked so hard to establish.
And, employees are avidly asking for financial support, whether in a small-dollar loan program or an earned income advance program, they want options.
As stress rises, so too can the risks for further health complications such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, diabetes, and more. Financial problems can extend to employees’ personal relationships and is even a leading cause of divorce.
Many articles that discuss EAPs claim that they help reduce turnover rates and workplace accidents, while also increasing retention and productivity. This fails to cover the fact, however, that many employees consider themselves to be financially illiterate. If employees feel that their finances are out of control, that is a major stressor that is not being resolved by anything; one which can lead to more problems.
What Will Be the Future of Employee Assistance Programs?
Today, EAPs provide employees with healthy ways to learn how to cope with their surroundings and overlook the actual cause by attempting to address the symptoms.
In short, these programs aren’t as beneficial and proactive as they should be. An Employee Assistance Program should form a proactive cycle by integrating its services into wider health and wellbeing strategies that tackle financial services as a core component.
Does your current EAP provide proactive financial support?