The Effect of Employee Assistance Programs
At the Workplace
Throughout the business world, one of the largest problems individual businesses face is the use of illegal drugs and alcohol. These substances greatly affect the business and workplace environments for many individuals. Employee assistance programs were created to help deal with augmenting substance abuse problems. Employee assistance programs enable a companies and its workers to detect if a co-worker is having problems and aids in helping them to overcome their problems by giving them advice or suggesting counseling. Critics have noticed some problems with this program. One problem is the lack of confidentiality and the fact that co-workers and bosses are afraid to confront their workers. In order for companies to minimize their loss of money, and for employees to stop ruining their lives and the lives around them, the employee assistance program is a necessity. Appropriate prevention and intervention efforts with employee assistance programs will save companies from losing experienced employees, and save employees from failure and even death.
The most tremendous problems that companies are facing in the Nineties are the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Alcoholism is defined as a chronic, progressive, and fatal disease. The American Medical Association has recognized alcoholism as a disease since 1956 (Scanlon 9). An alcoholic is identified as having a severe dependency, or addiction, and a cumulative pattern of behaviors associated with drinking. Alcoholism is apparent when someone is frequently drunk, having marriage problems, driving while intoxicated, getting fired, or being arrested (Drug Abuse). A significant difference between being an alcoholic and a drug addict is that drugs, no matter what the age of the user, are illegal.
Drug abuse is defined as the use of a drug for a purpose other than for its possible intended medical purpose, which causes a person to be impaired physically, emotionally, and socially. In both cases people use these substances as a way to escape from their problems, and as a way of postponing upcoming problems in their lives (Scanlon 10). Substance abuse is the misuse of any substance leading to a loss of control over mind and body.
Employee assistance programs were founded in 1971, and
“Have been working to develop and maintain the
best possible workplace relationships… EAP members follow professional standards and a strict code of ethics, which includes a firm commitment to protect and uphold confidentiality” (Dickman 7).
Employee assistance programs (EAP) are designed to assist in finding and to aid in solving productivity problems associated with employees impaired by alcohol, drugs and any other problems that affect the employees job performance. The cost ranges from $12 to $35 per employee for an EAP program. Businesses investing in an EAP rather than an insurance policy save anywhere from $5 to $16 per employee (Goldberg 1). This proves to be considerably cheaper for a company that will greatly benefit from the use of this program.
Loss of productivity within a company is the major cause of businesses starting to implement employee assistance programs. Companies loose billions of dollars due to substance abuse. The economic cost placed on society from alcohol and drug abuse was estimated at $246 billion in 1992 and $276.3 billion in 1995. Total loss of potential productivity resulting from long term residential treatment of alcohol and drug abusers was $2.233 billion. Clients with primary drug problems cost $694 million. Clients with alcohol problems cost $577 million, while cross-addicted (Drugs and alcohol) clients cost $962 million. Sixty percent of these costs are attributed to losses in the workplace, which is approximately $82 billion in lost potential productivity (Economic). It is known that seventy percent of people that do drugs have a job (Gerhart 46).
The level of stress attained in a certain occupation and prevalence of drugs are directly related to each other. The more stress a job causes to its workers the higher the chance those workers have of becoming substance abusers. The fact that work stress promotes heavy and problematic alcohol use is widely accepted (Cooper 260). Five to eight percent of all workers abuse alcohol. Absenteeism is sixteen times greater with people that have substance abuse problems than with attending normal employees. Substance abusers also use three times as many sick benefits, and are five times as likely to file a worker’s compensation claim (Goldberg 1).
One out of every ten workers in the United States abuses alcohol or drugs (Substance Abuse). Statistics such as this both directly and indirectly affect the lives of people everyday. How does a boss or co-worker know if someone is having a problem with a substance and if it is affecting his or her performance at the workplace? Various signs are apparent in these situations. Some indications of substance abuse may be: increased absenteeism and tardiness, especially on Mondays and Fridays, frequent unreported emergencies or accidents, frequent sickness, depressed or anxious attitudes, overreaction to criticism, fatigue, and missing deadlines (HR Focus). To handle this problem in the most effective manner it must be dealt with promptly.
Employee assistance programs have invaluable programs that benefit its business clientele. The overall recovery rates in businesses that have instituted these programs are about fifty to eighty-five percent says King, who is a credited researcher and writer on the topic of substance abuse in the workplace (16). Sixty-two percent of surveyed employers offered EAP services to their employees (Miller 7). These statistics are increasingly high due to the wide range of services that are offered. Some of these services are employee education (on-site and off-site), individual and organizational assessment, Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling, and referrals to treatment. EAP’s also train supervisors and management for early detection of substance abuse problems (Beason C1). Employee assistance programs result in happier and safer employees, decreased insurance costs, better performance, larger profits, fewer accidents, and an overall increased productivity.
The majority of businesses care for their employees and want to make sure that they get through their difficult times. Ninety percent of companies encourage the members of their staff with drinking problems to seek help, and half of the employers allow time off for rehabilitation (Cooper 262). However, other discrepancies are found with drug abusers. Approximately one-third of all companies fire anyone that is found using illegal drugs. The companies encourage counseling, but at a lower percentage of eighty-one percent, and forty percent allow time off for rehabilitation (Gerhart 49). The companies get a five percent discount from the Department of Labor and Industries, on workplace compensation premiums for having a “drug free workplace” (Beason C1).
One of the major problems found in employee assistance programs is confrontation. If an employee or manager detects substance abuse or knows about a problem that another worker is having, confrontation rarely occurs. The supervisors are reluctant to monitor and intervene with alcohol related behaviors. They usually tend to cover up the misuse of a substance rather than to acknowledge its existence (Maynard 11). How are people supposed to get better? How is the company supposed to grow stronger if problems aren’t taken care of? Yes, EAP does work, but for the program to work the management and supervisors must detect and report problems with their workers. People who tend to be afraid of the confrontation believe alcohol testing is a good approach to dealing with the problem. However some of these tests, such as the urine test, do not tell or show whether there is alcohol-induced impairment, or if alcohol was used in the workplace (Hartwell 27). Another way to prohibit substance abuse in the workplace is to enact anti-drug and anti-alcohol policies. These policies should take a clear stand against the use or distribution of substances in the workplace. They should also explain the penalty for going against the rules (HR Focus).
An even larger problem with employee assistance programs is confidentiality. EAP’s have their clients sign forms stating that everything shared during counseling will remain confidential, except in cases where potential harm may be inflicted upon the client or others. This poses a potential problem. In most substance abuse cases the employee, could harm himself or herself or someone else, whether the harm is done directly or indirectly, due to the potentiality of this problem people are losing their jobs says Beason, a reporter for the “The Seattle Times”. Many people hear about these cases and don’t trust their counselors or the employee assistance program. The clients talking about their problems add to their chance of losing their job. As stated in a business magazine, a worker was caught abusing drugs by his employer. His employer sent him to an employee assistance counselor for help instead of firing him. The employee told the counselor that he got cited for driving while intoxicated. The employee was later fired (Beason C1). Most workers that recognize their substance abuse problems will not even bother getting help due to the fear of losing their job and pride.
Employee assistance programs are without a doubt the most effective way for companies to deal with decreased productivity and substance abuse problems affecting their invaluable employees. Ignoring the problem of substance abuse in the workplace can cost companies substantial amounts of money and possibly their employee’s life. The high recovery rates from these programs prove their effectiveness. This program is based on the belief that these problems can be successfully resolved if the employee is willing to seek help and pursue counseling. In the end, the result of using employee assistance programs, help to enhance the work climate assist employees with personal problems that affect their job performance.