Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Divorce, Presenteeism, and Mediation: Divorces and Other Family Disputes Can Prevent Employees from Giving Full Attention to Their Jobs. EAPs Can Help Workers Reduce the Cost and Stress of These Conflicts by Encouraging the Use of Mediation

Magazine article The Journal of Employee Assistance

Divorce, Presenteeism, and Mediation: Divorces and Other Family Disputes Can Prevent Employees from Giving Full Attention to Their Jobs. EAPs Can Help Workers Reduce the Cost and Stress of These Conflicts by Encouraging the Use of Mediation

Article excerpt

Presenteeism, a term that is gaining increasing credibility in the human resources literature, refers to employees being unable to pay full attention to their jobs because they are distracted by personal issues. Presenteeism is distinct from productivity losses caused by organizational problems or failures of management; rather, it refers to performance failures related to an employee's life outside of work.

Health issues affecting employees or their family members, financial worries (such as impending foreclosure or bankruptcy), marital tensions, and mental health problems are all potential distractions. Indeed, almost any major cause of stress in an employee's life can become a constant source of distraction and affect job performance.

In some work environments, lack of attention may result in nothing more than lower production. But in settings such as hospitals, public utilities, and police/fire departments, a lack of focus can mean the difference between life and death. As many as 100,000 deaths per year can be attributed to medical error, and at least some of these probably are consequences of presenteeism.

MAJOR CAUSES OF STRESS

The challenges facing employee assistance professionals are (1) learning how to identify workers who are distracted by personal issues and (2) referring such workers to appropriate resources. For some EAPs, addressing presenteeism may require expanding their stable of referral sources. Mental health and substance abuse treatment providers are the dominant players in the pantheon of EAP referrals. To the extent these providers reduce employee stress and improve physical and mental health, they should also contribute to reducing the sources of distraction that generate presenteeism problems.

But there are two major causes of stress that are not fundamentally mental health issues but can adversely affect work performance. One is financial trouble, which can affect employees for several reasons: the economy is suffering, the credit and housing markets are in turmoil, prices of food and energy are rising, and several employers are reducing their payrolls. Many families affected by these problems may simply be poor financial managers who spend more than they earn and suddenly find themselves with large credit card balances.

If employees are facing financial challenges, it would seem logical and compelling for EAPs to be prepared to make appropriate referrals. Legitimate credit counselors, bankruptcy lawyers, accountants, mortgage brokers, and financial planners should all be represented among an EAP's referral sources. It would be unfortunate if a referral were made to a mental health provider to help alleviate the symptoms of financial stress but not to a professional who could address the source of the problem.

A second source of stress is legal trouble, which is sometimes secondary to financial problems (the threat of foreclosure is a perfect example). Legal problems, however, can also involve criminal or misdemeanor charges against the employee or a family member or civil lawsuits arising from a transaction, such as building or buying a new house. In many cases, an employee who has little or no experience with the legal system may feel overwhelmed and have no idea how to find an appropriate lawyer or other professional who can help. Again, referral to an appropriate professional is well within the scope of the EAP.

Some EA professionals are connected to legal services providers who offer low-cost legal representation. Although referrals to such providers for criminal cases or civil matters such as real estate closings are appropriate, referrals to lawyers committed to conventional adversary representation may actually generate more stress and mental health issues for employees. This is particularly true in divorces or other matters in which the legal process intersects with emotional issues, such as in family disputes over caring for elderly parents or inheriting money. …

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