The EAP as a Bridge Across the Generations
Just as life progresses naturally through stages, so do the financial issues and concerns of your workforce. Common life events, such as marriage, the birth of children and retirement, may force employees to revisit and possibly revise any life blueprint that they may have made earlier.
For example, when two young people get married for the first time, they start learning what it means to be responsible for someone other than himself or herself. This may not require a change in plans, but it does raise the need for life insurance. Disability insurance, which makes sense for workers whether they’re married or single, already may be in place.
Or perhaps, your employee may have figured all along on having children, but might not have started a college saving plan. In the shorter term, raising a family leads to plenty of new budgeting challenges.
If a marriage ends in divorce, the financial issues can be very complicated and treacherous for those without expert help. Old financial plans based on two incomes have to be discarded; new ones will depend on property settlements, alimony and child support. Remarriage can add to the complexity (and the need for outside help), especially when the new husband and wife already have children and assets.
If savings were started early and have been invested well, employees may start to reap the reward of expanding wealth in their preretirement years. On the other hand, as working years are drawing to a close and future earning power is dwindling, it won’t be as easy as it once seemed to recoup money lost in the stock market. Consequently, investing styles shift toward less risk.
Issues of aging, such as estate planning and the cost of long-term care, take on new urgency at this point. By now, employees may be investing mostly to preserve capital and draw income, but they still have to make sure they can keep up with inflation for at least a couple of decades after turning 65. In or around the retirement years, employees also enter the distribution phase of tax-deferred retirement plans.
Addictive behaviors like gambling, alcohol and drug abuse also may impact an individual’s financial concerns. Although an employee may not identify the addiction as the primary issue or concern, contact with the EAP for a financial concern may allow for a more comprehensive assessment of lifestyle or behavioral issues impacting a financial concern.
Personal debt has been reported in the media to be at an all-time high, resulting in the U.S. government’s decision to tighten the rules allowing bankruptcy filing. Easy access to credit cards and a weak economy have contributed to the spiraling debt load of many employees. Personal financial issues are distracting to the individual employee in the workplace and may result in decreased performance. In fact, the banking industry regards personal financial concerns to place the industry at risk for criminal behavior.
Often, legal and financial issues seem to go hand in hand. Having children not only raises financial issues, such as saving and investing for college, but also legal issues, such as making sure a will is in place. A will should make provisions for guardianship if both parents die while the children are still minors. Financial issues related to divorce require legal intervention in the planning and settlement of divorce and child custody issues.
American families are facing ongoing legal challenges of staggering proportions, and the need for legal and mediation programs is greater than ever. Consider that:
• The odds are greater that an individual will end up in court this year than in the hospital.
• The divorce rate in this country exceeds 50 percent.
• In 1980 just over 12 million Americans filed a lawsuit, while in 1998, more than 100 million lawsuits were filed.
Legal issues can take the form of thoughtful planning, as is the case for estate planning and the creation of a will or trust, or can be in response to more urgent matters, like orders of protection in cases of family violence or perhaps related to criminal behavior including drunk driving and assault or episodes of workplace violence. In all scenarios, access to legal services is important for the workforce and allows the EAP to intervene to address legal issues that also may impact work performance, as is the case with alcohol- and drug-related offenses.
We are by nature social animals that need human contact and connection. Although we may spend more of our awake time at work, our relationships at home with significant others and/or children often are the most important relationships to us. Maintaining successful and happy relationships is an ongoing process as the issues and needs of individuals continually change. And while personal relationships are not typically the concern or interest of the workplace, the status of these relationships often impacts the productivity of employees.
Dating; commitment/marriage; families with young children, with teenagers, with young adults, and empty nest families; divorcing, single parent and blended families; aging; substance abuse; illness; infidelity; violence and grief are a very few of the relationship issues that employees seek counsel for from the EAP. In fact, ValueOptions’ 2004 book of business EAP data indicates that 39 percent of employees seeking the services of the EAP did so for marital/family issues.
Notably, spouses and significant others are likely to seek the services of the EAP for relationship difficulties directly related to another’s substance abuse. And so while the individual substance abuser may not identify the issue or seek treatment himself or herself, opportunities exist for the EAP to work with concerned others to intervene with the impaired partner and promote treatment.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson released a report on Sept. 16, 2003, highlighting the significant economic toll that preventable diseases take on businesses, workers and the nation. The report highlights the importance for employers to make health promotion part of their business strategy.
The HHS report summarizes key research findings about the prevalence and cost of chronic diseases where prevention and health management can make a difference—including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and asthma. Individual choices that lead to overweight and obesity, lack of physical activity and smoking greatly increase the risk of these diseases.
The report highlights recent research showing the dramatic impact of chronic, preventable illnesses on business’s bottom line. Consider that:
- Obesity-related health problems cost U.S. businesses an estimated $13 billion in 1994, including about $8 billion in health insurance costs, $2.4 billion for sick leave, $1.8 billion for life insurance and nearly $1 billion for disability insurance.
- Average health care expenditures for people with diabetes run about $13,243 per person, compared with $2,650 per person for people without diabetes. Even after the differences in age, sex, race and ethnicity are taken into account, people with diabetes had medical expenditures that were 2.4 times higher than comparable people without diabetes.
- One economic analysis found that a health plan’s annual costs for covering treatments to help people quit smoking ranged from 89 cents to $4.92 per smoker, while the annual costs of treating smoking-related illness ranged from $6 to $33 per smoker.
No group is more aware or sensitive to the impact of medical issues on attendance, productivity and health care costs then American businesses today. While many organizations are involved with their health care insurance providers, disability management vendors and wellness programs, a valuable asset exists with the EAP’s ability to address the behavioral and psychosocial issues of prevention, illness and physical health.
Mental Health Issues
Hardly any workplace is too big or too small to avoid the impact of mental illness. According to The Wall Street Journal, four people in a typical office of 20—one out of five—can be expected to suffer from a mental condition this year. Depression alone is estimated to cost businesses in the United States $70 billion a year in lost productivity, medical outlays and other costs.
On top of this toll in money and human pain, mental illness is among the more difficult workplace problems to tackle head on. Unlike most other diseases, it is one that many sufferers choose to leave untreated, even when treatment is available. For them, the promise of some relief competes with the fear of being stigmatized because they seek help.
As a manager or supervisor, you may notice that some employees seem less productive and reliable than usual. They may call in sick or arrive late to work often, have more accidents or just seem less interested in work. These individuals may be suffering from very real and common mental disorders like depression or anxiety. Although it is not your job as a supervisor to diagnose a mental health issue, it may help to understand more about it.
Substance Abuse Issues
Does someone under your supervision have an untreated drinking problem?
If so, you may have seen that your team member isn’t doing his best work. You probably already know the problem can be dangerous or disruptive. Since four out of five people who are addicted to alcohol or who use it in risky ways are in the workforce, chances are high that at some point you will have an employee with this problem.
Still, drinking isn’t illegal, and you might think that it’s none of your business, especially if it occurs off-site or during nonwork hours. But drinking problems rarely contain themselves so neatly; even hangovers and other aftereffects of drinking can impact work performance. Risky drinkers (9.1 percent of working people between the ages of 18 and 49) pose risks to themselves, their families, their coworkers and their place of employment. Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol use. One out of five employees say that the alcohol problems of people they work with have caused them to redo work or to cover for the drinker.
Recent practices such as pre-employment testing of illicit drugs can mask alcohol issues, leading some managers to believe they’ve covered the bases, consequently giving them a false sense of security. Managers may believe that they are preemptively eliminating addiction problems, when in fact they are neglecting alcoholism, which can take years to develop.
One way to determine the likely extent of alcohol problems in your company is to use the Web tool www.alcoholcostcalculator.org. The calculator generates a custom report for your industry and lists strategies for making your workplace safer, healthier and more productive.
Many people still believe that alcoholism and less severe drinking disorders are the results of personal failings. But medical experts, scientists and the many people who have recovered from alcohol problems know that alcoholism is a treatable chronic illness, much like asthma, high blood pressure or diabetes. Treatment for alcohol problems can be as effective as it is for these illnesses. The earlier a treatment program is initiated, the easier it is to prevent escalating problems.
Confidential alcohol screening can be conducted for employees as part of an EAP, resulting in referrals to appropriate treatment resources if indicated.
In most cases, problem drinkers need professional help to stop or reduce their alcohol use. Keep information flowing so that employees know what help they can get. Encourage your company to maintain an effective EAP. A strong program can be a crucial gateway to treatment because it leaves the decision to pursue treatment up to the employee.