Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Test Your EAP IQ: Who Should Be for EAP Services

Which of following policy statements supports the view that an EAP is a benefit to employees like any other, and which one supports the view that an EAP is a comprehensive, loss prevention and behavioral risk management tool to control costs, preserve human resources, reduce employment practices liability, and help employees be healthy, happy, and productive.

Policy Statement A: The EAP is available to all full and part-time employees as part of their benefits package offered by the company.

Policy Statement B: The EAP is available to all employees, part-time employees, their immediate family members, all employees paid as contractors, temporary employees (IRS Form 1099), and volunteers.

The limited view is Statement A. The comprehensive view is Statement B.

Statement B costs a company more, but it will protect the organization more.

Statement B will affect the bottom line more in terms of "dollars recovered from loss". The afforded protection will be unknowable because the loss events that may have occurred, won't. There is a way to identify cost-benefit however. That is to look at property casualty losses and claims from on comparable industry to the next, and over a series of years in the company that has decided to make its EAP a loss prevention program.

EAPs: Don't Get Accused of FMLA Abuse Helping the Down Trodden

In your effort to support employees and help them find relief for mental health conditions that affect them, do not fall victim to encouraging employees to seek a doctor's verification of their need to take medical leave for simply feeling "stressed out." It may not hold up under scrutiny and if you are found to have collaborated with the employee to take off work for what management may later determine as a "mental health vacation", you could regret it. Employer's will know intuitively if you are involved in this sort of thing.

The FMLA provides job protection for employees who are sick and can't work for up to twelve weeks per year, if they must care for a family member who is ill. However, have you had an employee client without any sick leave or remaining vacation leave visit your EAP office to discuss taking off work for "mental stress" while having it covered by the FMLA so the absence from work does not jeopardize the employee's employment? Feeling empathy for an employee's plight could make some fall victim of this collusion if you don't stay on your toes.

Be aware that encouraging an employee to seek a medical certification for stress and having it appear as an illness, perhaps by a licensed health practicioner certifying it when everyone knows this is not a bona fide condition, will not endear you to the employer hosting the EAP.

A quick digression and philosphical discussion: As an employee assistance professional, your customer is the employer. (Some folks hate it when I say this. They want it to be the employee.) Your service is employee assistance. The client is the employee, manager, or organization being serviced at any particular moment, but the employee is not your customer. The definition of a customer pertains tp that who purchases a commodity. EAPs exist because of their econonmic cost-benefit justification to employers and employer patronage as customers. If it was not for this purchase, EAPs would not exist. Many employee assistance professionals lose cite of this because they knowingly (or unknowingly) want to see themselves as advocates for the little guy and in their view of the world--not necessarily publicly stated--the employer is considered the power and abuser. More precisely, some EA professionals have bought into the "corporation bad" mentality.

Back to the topic: When you service an organization with an EAP, it's great to act in the "broker" role and help connect clisents to services, but be cautious to avoid the role of "employee advocate." Seek to connect employees with resources, even resources that provide employee advocacy, but don't enter this realm as an employee assistance professional to argue the employee's cause with the organization. If you were trained as human services professional, you've had this lecture in a sociology class along the way, I know, but many employee assistance professionals without formal human services professional training haven't heard this distinction before. (So I'm blogging, man!)

So, my argument is to think in terms of what is best for your client in the context of what is best for the employer, not the other way around. To do otherwise can jeopardize your job security, reputation, and the employee assistance profession in general.

A recent court ruling three weeks ago, in favor of the employer, found that the employee didn't have sufficient justification to take FMLA leave because they felt "stressed out." This case has implications for EAPs. You can read about here: Lackman v. Recovery Services of New Jersey, Inc

Friday, March 21, 2008

Let Drug Treatment Programs Boost Your EAP Utilization

Alcoholism, drug addiction, and psychiatric treatment programs always know who the employers are of their patients. It's one of questions on any intake or admission form. But I bet these treatment programs aren't calling you to let you know that an employee of yours was admitted to the treatment program, right? Why not? Do not say it is because the patient didn't want to sign a release! The reason is because the treatment program didn't ask the patient if they wanted support and help from their EAP--you. The treatment program isn't "thinking" about how you can help the patient (employee), how it can have less program stress by you assisting with follow-up, and how it can reduce recidivism while creating a win-win through collaboration. You will have to teach them. And if you do, you will raise your utilization rate with your most valuable clients -- alcohol and drug addicted employees in recovery.

Imagine that anytime an employee from one of the major companies you service with an EAP was admitted to an addiction treatment program, that the treatment program would look to see if the patient had an EAP, who the contact person for that EAP was. They would then encourage the employee to use the program and then incorporate the EAP in the discharge summary.

You would then be called and included in the important follow up information pertaining to the employee's recovery. Employee referrals to you of this nature will increase your utilization rate by becoming clients so you can do follow up. When you contact addiction treatment programs, provide them with a list of the organizations you serve. Let the treatment program know that you are willing to follow patients (employees) discharged from treatment, and assist them in remaining motivated to follow-through with their recovery programs while problem-solving workplace issues.

Addiction treatment programs are more than willing to ask patients for permission so you can be contacted. You can then involve the employee with the EAP and schedule post-discharge follow-up at the EAP office. This approach improves success rates of patients because the treatment experience becomes less isolated; the EAP is involved and a linkage to the job setting is established. In some cases, employees have been enabled for years, and return to the workplace is a complete set-up for relapse without your help. The EAP can play a mitigating role with a back-to-work conference, and other support. You can purchase for a specially designed set of "back-to-work" conference guidelines for EAPs at the www.eaptools.com web site. Find it on this page below along with other fact sheets for EAP managment.


Friday, March 14, 2008

It’s OK to Telephone the EAP

If you are an EAP with a face-to-face operation, inform employees through your communication channels, EAP orientations, and supervisor training’s, that you can help employees by telephone if they do not want to see the EA professional in person. Don't overlook this promotional strategy. Many EAPs miss a unknown percentage of potential clients because they do not specifically promote this option.

The bottom line – you don’t want to lose employees who need help, and who could improve your utilization rate just because they didn’t want to be persaonally seen. Many employees have never seen a mental health professional, let alone an EA professional. They may have no intention of doing so, and yet they still have personal problems.

You will need to give these folks plenty of permission to call you. Top managers are also skittish about visiting EA professionals. You’re likely to attract more top managers with this approach. Don’t lock yourself out of these referrals by being rigid about this additional method of helping employees. (This is NOT an endorsement for a telephone EAP model.)

Don’t think you will see fewwer employees in-person if you mention occasionally that you can still help them by phone. Just the opposite is true. Once “gun-shy” employees call, the ice is broken. You are made more familiar, and the employee is a step closer to accepting an in-person appointment.

Many of you have experienced a call from an employee, who you asked to come to the EAP office in person to better discuss a personal problem. They then agreed, but that’s because the employee got past the first mental roadblock--feeling comfortable with the person at the other end of the phone. Do not let administrative or secretarial staff manage these calls and attempt to motivate an in-person visit to the EAP by the caller. Have them referred to the EA professional to take the "sale" the rest of the way. It takes counseling skill to avoid losing some of these calls.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bullying More Harmful that Sexual Harassment says APA

MARCH 8, 2008


Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment, say researchers who presented their findings at a conference today.

“As sexual harassment becomes less acceptable in society, organizations may be more attuned to helping victims, who may therefore find it easier to cope,” said lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, of the University of Manitoba.

“In contrast, non-violent forms of workplace aggression such as incivility and bullying are not illegal, leaving victims to fend for themselves.” This finding was presented at the Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the Society for Occupational Health Psychology.

Hershcovis and co-author Julian Barling, PhD, of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, reviewed 110 studies conducted over 21 years that compared the consequences of employees’ experience of sexual harassment and workplace aggression.

Specifically, the authors looked at the effect on job, co-worker and supervisor satisfaction, workers’ stress, anger and anxiety levels as well as workers’ mental and physical health. Job turnover and emotional ties to the job were also compared.

The authors distinguished among different forms of workplace aggression. Incivility included rudeness and discourteous verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Bullying included persistently criticizing employees’ work; yelling; repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes; spreading gossip or lies; ignoring or excluding workers; and insulting employees’ habits, attitudes or private life. Interpersonal conflict included behaviors that involved hostility, verbal aggression and angry exchanges.

Both bullying and sexual harassment can create negative work environments and unhealthy consequences for employees, but the researchers found that workplace aggression has more severe consequences. Employees who experienced bullying, incivility or interpersonal conflict were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed, the researchers found.

Furthermore, bullied employees reported more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety. No differences were found between employees experiencing either type of mistreatment on how satisfied they were with their co-workers or with their work.

“Bullying is often more subtle, and may include behaviors that do not appear obvious to others,” said Hershcovis. “For instance, how does an employee report to their boss that they have been excluded from lunch? Or that they are being ignored by a coworker? The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction.”

From a total of 128 samples that were used, 46 included subjects who experienced sexual harassment, 86 experienced workplace aggression and six experienced both. Sample sizes ranged from 1,491 to 53,470 people. Participants ranged from 18 to 65 years old. The work aggression samples included both men and women.

The sexual harassment samples examined primarily women because, Hershcovis said, past research has shown that men interpret and respond differently to the behaviors that women perceive as sexual harassment.

Presentation: Comparing the Outcomes of Sexual Harassment and Workplace Aggression: A Meta-Analysis, M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba and Julian Barling, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada; Saturday, March 8, 8:00 – 9:30 AM, Regency Ballroom – B6 M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD can be reached by email at sandy_hershcovis@umanitoba.ca or by phone at (204) 474-9951

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students.

Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare. # # # Pamela Willenz Manager APA Public Affairs Office 202-336-5707 pwillenz@apa.org

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Significant Study on Bullying in the Workplace Coming

My inside sources have asked me not to report information until Saturday March 8th, but a landmark study is due out on workplace bullying that will capture the national news. You'll get the information here first. Stay tuned.....

Saturday, March 1, 2008

More on Mandatory Referrals

Did you know that Mandatory Referrals to EAPs are illegal in Australia according to a representative from the largest EAP in Australia? I am waiting to hear back more from this person soon so I can pass along the information. It could very useful in this discussion.

Is it true that there may really be no such thing as a "mandatory referral"? They are called that, but it is often a misnomer in many cases. There is a difference between "a referral to the EAP is mandatory" and "it is mandatory to go to the EAP", correct? The former is what the these types of referrals are usually all about.

Actually, many of us believe that mandatory referrals are an unethical and problematic practice in EAP programming. Where they exist, they are often not part of EAP policy per se. Instead, they are part of the sponsoring/customer's policy on dealing with specific matters of performance and behavior. They are requirements for management and how employees will be treated in the face of egregious violations of specific work rules.

For example, a mandatory referral mean that the supervisor must prepare to terminate an employee for cause, but at the same time, offer the employee a one-time opportunity to be accommodated for the existence of a personal problem if the employee wishes to accept it. That opportunity comes in the form of a traditional, formal, supervisor referral to the EAP the acceptance of which will be the only thing that can prevent termination.

This is a win-win. The employee keeps their job for now, gets the red carpet treatment, is guaranteed that their promotional and job security will not be jeopardized simply because they go for help, and that the employee will be supported, and accommodated later as appropriate. If they don't accept this support and accomodation, the alternative is the opposite--the employee picks up their last pay check and is fired for the infraction. This is tough love. Most employees choose an EAP referral and cooperation with its recommendations. This is a compassionate move to help any employee with a serious personal problem confounded by denial.

Unfortunately these referrals are frequently not communicated much tact . They are made to sound harsh and punitive. More employees would enter treatment and be salvaged if they were. What a mandatory referrals really is--although it gets lost in the translation--is a supervisor referral in the face of termination for cause with the employee being given the opportunity to avoid termination, if he or she decides it would be a good thing to find out if a personal problem contributes performance issues. This is also called performance-based intervention.

Many EAPs reject mandatory terminology entirely. That is why I said they remain controversial in the flash <--click to see again. The flash, which is part of the EAP Refresher Training for Supervisors series #1 (there are three refresher courses) only received a two comments so far.

Personally, I think using the term mandatory referrals in promotional literature and employee orientations is very damaging to to EAPs. They are square pegs being shoved in the round holes of the core technology and EAPs should help organizations "re-word them" so DOT regulations requiring referral to the EAP for a positive drug test are upheld, but at the same time different language is employed in the process that does not undermine EAP's value and destroy the program's ability to attract employees, especially self-referrals.

Unfortunately, many EAPs unfamiliar with EAP history, and EAP theory (as I like to call it), or client self-determination principles in the helping professions, incorporate 'mandatory referrals' in their policies and procedures only because management has said "make this happen" and EAPs comply to please the customer, rather than say, "Hey, wait a minute, let's not have you shoot the EAP (and your investment in this loss prevention program) in the foot with this language." Let's re-word this to help you, the EAP, and the employee. Let's not align the EAP with language that makes this process appear punitive.

Tough love must communicated more with the love than the "tough" part. That's what makes it work. Indeed, this is why EAPs have been so successful where they have been thoughtfully established to help troubled employees.