Can employee assistance programs ease stress?

While stress is nothing new in the veterinary profession, the pandemic—and resulting changes to the ways (and volume!) we practice medicine and manage our hospitals—has certainly not helped, and some people may benefit from the help of a therapist to cope with the strain. 

But trying to find help and figuring out how to pay for it can cause even more stress. 

Employee assistance programs (EAPscan help by giving your staff access to free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. 

NEWStat talked to Kellie Olah, CVPM, SPHR, SHRM-CP, a human resources consultant with Veterinary Business Advisors and coauthor of the AAHA Guide to Creating an Employee Handbook, Fourth Editionto find out how an EAP can help your staff. 

NEWStat: What exactly are EAPs, and how can they help hospitals address employee mental health and wellness as the holidays approach? 

KO: An EAP is a benefit that employers can provide to their employees that helps the team deal with issues outside of work that affect job performance. For example, they may offer free counseling, financial resources, adoption assistance, or even basic legal assistance. 

NEWStat: What should hospitals look for in an EAP? 

KO: Response time is the most important part of an EAP. How fast can your employees get a response from a counselor or resources? Employees often wait to utilize EAPs until they’re feeling despair or at the end of their rope as a last resource. We want to make sure the EAP provides timely, if not immediate, responses to our team. 

NEWStatHow can hospitals make EAPs cost effective? 

KO: Cost effectiveness is relative. Oftentimes, these outside struggles of employees cause them to have attendance and performance issues. Attendance and performance issues lead to less productivity and higher turnover rates. Providing relief for those stresses allows employees to focus on work while at work and be more productive and healthier as well. [According to the Employee Assistance Trade Association of North America, the average rate of return for employers is $3 to $10 for every dollar invested in an EAP.]  

NEWStat: How can practices encourage employees to use EAPs?  

Know your team and what they’re going through. If someone is struggling, either emotionally, or simply with poor performance, make sure in a performance-management conversationyou’re bringing up the EAP program. Bring up the EAP program during check-ins, too. Ask questions like, “How are you doing? I just want to remind you the EAP is available to you. 

NEWStat: Between the pandemic and the holidays, have you seen a jump in requests for information about EAPs? 

KO: I think people as a whole are suffering a lot due to COVID. There has been exponential loss, sickness, loss of childcare, [and] schools closing, and that’s added a huge strain on the entire team, from the [doctors to front-desk staff]. In any given year when the holidays approach, the need for support increases due to extra financial pressures, family obligations, and so on. Throwing a pandemic on top of that[and] the need for support exponentially increases.  

NEWStat: Any additional thoughts on EAPs? 

KO: Most managers are not equipped to handle mental health issues and should not be the ones to handle them. EAPs can provide additional support that the practice cannot provide. 

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