Many companies realize that there is a high correlation between their employees mental health with their job performance. The average adult works 40 hours a week, not including time spent on a deadline, time traveling, time talking about work or time spent with co-workers outside of work. Work can easily consume us and companies are getting smart and healthy by offering services to their employees such as flex-spending accounts, on-site daycare and gyms, on-site Weight Watchers meetings and lawyer referrals. Some even provide lunches for their staff. The one service offered and most under-utilized is the Employee Assistance Program or EAP. Why are employees hesitant about utilizing their EAP?
Many times it has to do with the myth that by utilizing an EAP service, you allow your problems to be fodder for watercooler gossip. Many people believe they could be fired by utilizing their EAP for services such as outpatient behavioral health or substance abuse services. Because EAP is given through work, it is hard for employees to conceptualize separating the two.
The fact is that EAP services are strictly confidential and an employees utilization of an EAP program has no bearing on their job. Companies would rather their employees speak to an EAP representative for a referral to a therapist so that the issue does not impact the employee’s job performance. Failure to do so could be more damaging to both employee and employer in the long run.
Therapists who contract with an EAP service do not send notes or update employers on an employees’ treatment. Doing so would be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) which provides federal protection for a patient’s private health information.
Another benefit to employees is that many EAP’s allow a specific number of free sessions for short-term psychotherapy. This is a low-cost alternative to using an insurance plan or paying out-of-pocket. This allows an employee to get comfortable with the therapist selected as well as with the counseling process. It’s a great way to “test” the therapeutic process without the financial obligation. Many employees don’t realize that an EAP service can help with more than just a therapist referral. Many can help with finding nannies or babysitters, dog sitters, and other services that can be beneficial to an employee.
If a company offers an EAP program the only information the company’s human resources department will receive is how often the EAP services were used. This is done in order for HR managers to justify the cost of being part of an EAP plan. No one from the employees company will know who used the services or any other private information that would be a violation of HIPAA.