Firms Find Savings in Employee Assistance Programs

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Do you need help with a financial, legal, domestic or mental health problem?

Concerned about drug addiction, your career, alcoholism, adoption, AIDS, day care, dependent care, hyperactive children, stress, gambling, grief due to a death, marital relations and the like?

Until recently, these concerns were considered personal problems that belonged outside the workplace. Now, however, more than one-third of the nation's workers can dial a number for employer-paid, confidential counseling and referral services, says Richard Bickerton of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association of Arlington, Va.

Early on, when employee assistance programs came on the scene, they dealt only with alcoholism problems. Now employee assistance programs provide help on virtually anything that affects your performance on the job. Employers use these services because it's good business; they want their employees to overcome their problems and remain productive.

``A comprehensive service that costs employers only $2 to $3 per month per employee lowers insurance costs and reduces absenteeism, accidents and turnover,'' says Jesse Bernstein, president of Employee Assistance Associates Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.

``Traditional employee benefits programs cover physical illness and disabilities, but few offer comprehensive mental health or help with other contemporary life-management concerns,'' says Ronald Moreland of Managed Health Network of Los Angeles.

Moreland believes the onset of recession in the U.S. economy ``will impose an increasing feeling of uncertainty on employees,'' making a confidential source of help even more essential.

Employers are promoting use of their employee assistance programs to their employees because they want to have small problems dealt with before they become big problems. ``It's far better for a parent to ask for help with a difficult 2-year-old than to have to call years later when the child is a teen-ager who has been arrested,'' Bernstein says.

Companies find that when employees use an employee assistance program early, while the problem is still manageable, there are fewer referrals that require use of benefits. At Employee Assistance Associates, whose programs promote calling its counselors early, only about half of the calls to counselors requires the use of benefits; the other half requires only talking with the counselor or getting a referral that doesn't require benefits.

Bernstein says that the seriousness and range of a company president's personal problems often determine whether or not an employee assistance program is established and what range of services is offered. …