Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, cause extensive property damage, physical injuries and loss of life. The distress might not end there, however.
Mental health experts say that many victims of disasters experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety in the months following these events. The loss of loved ones, jobs, material goods and livelihoods are all traumatic experiences for victims, according to one Red Cross official.
Employers helping their workers cope with experiencing a disaster will generally find that having an employee assistance program (EAP) in place is invaluable.
An EAP is an intervention program designed to help employees resolve personal problems that might be affecting their work performance. Many employers make EAP services available to employees’ family members, as well.
The problems do not necessarily have to be related to natural disasters – health, marital, financial and parenting issues are also among the problems an EAP can address. However, the program can be especially valuable for an employee who has suffered significant losses in a disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake or wildfire.
After a traumatic event like one of these, an EAP can provide the employee with:
- Counseling and other forms of emotional support
- Referrals to sources of food, shelter and clothing
- Emergency care and boarding for pets
- Opportunities for charitable donations
- Assistance locating loved ones
- Community-based recovery resources
An employee feeling overwhelmed in the aftermath of a disaster can use these services to return a small amount of stability and normalcy to their life. They help take care of short-term concerns, such as finding a place to stay and care for children and pets, allowing the individual to focus on longer-term problems such as repairing or replacing the home and obtaining financial assistance.
These programs have great benefits for employers, as well. Happy and healthy employees are productive employees.
A study by the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that satisfied workers are 12% more productive and provide better customer service than their less happy peers. Employers who implement EAPs experience:
- Reduced absenteeism
- Fewer workplace accidents
- Lower medical and workers’ compensation costs
EAPs also help managers to become more effective. They can help them develop skills in consulting with employees, managing workplace stress, maintaining drug-free workplaces, responding to crises, and helping employees achieve an appropriate work-life balance.
Employers have several options for establishing EAPs.
They can run them with their own staff or outsource them to third party providers. Providers can be hired on a fee-for-service basis or for a fixed fee.
They can be arranged by single employers, groups of small employers banding together, or by unions. Some employers or unions even train employees to provide peer counseling to their fellow workers.
EAP providers should meet the standards set by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association. These include standards for program design; management and administration; confidentiality; direct services; drug-free workplace and substance-abuse professional services; partnerships; and evaluation of the program.
Even without catastrophic weather events, employees are subject to the stresses of day-to-day living, and their paths are often bumpy. Family members can develop substance-abuse problems, parents grow old and need care; unexpected financial shocks occur; and marriages often deteriorate.
By implementing an EAP, an employer can help make these problems, and the shock of a natural disaster, a little easier for their employees to manage.
EAPs can help retain good employees, make them more productive, and make their lives a little better. In turn, this can make a business more profitable and a better place to work.
This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, but rather perspective on recent regulatory issues, trends and standards affecting health insurance, voluntary benefits, 401(k) plans and other employee benefits. Please consult your broker or legal counsel for further information on the topics covered herein.