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Want to improve your retention? Help employees with personal issues
EAP is cost-effective and demonstrates commitment to staff
[Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series that examines ways to support employees' in their personal lives in order to improve work performance and staff retention. This month we look at the use of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and explore how hospices can choose the right program for their employees. Next month, we learn about a hospice that has set up an in-house wellness program that addresses personal life issues for employees.]
It is one thing to tell employees that you care about their emotional health and their personal life, but it's important to show employees that you recognize their need for help, says Pat Holtman, director of human resources at Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, FL. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is one way to demonstrate your hospice's commitment to employees, Holtman says.
Hospice employees help families deal with their issues and grief surrounding the death of the patient, and although most hospices make in-house social workers or chaplains available to talk with employees, the help employees need might not be available within the hospice, says Sherry Little, executive director of Home Hospice of Grayson County in Sherman, TX.
"There are times that employees don't want to share issues from their personal lives with co-workers, and the EAP gives them an outlet," Little explains.
a.though there has not been a formal survey among employees regarding benefits such as the EAP, she receives informal feedback from employees. "They tell me that they appreciate our open attitude about people needing extra support in their lives and they are glad the EAP is available," Little says.
They have offered an EAP for more than 10 years, she says. "Although it is not a benefit that potential employees use as a reason to choose one employer over another, I have seen a look of surprise in potential employees' eyes when I am describing our employee benefits," Little says. Although many new employees don't anticipate needing the services of an EAP, all react positively to the news that the hospice makes the benefit available to everyone, she adds.
Holtman estimates that about 30% of Covenant's 875 employees have used the EAP. "My utilization reports don't provide names, so I don't know if the visits are made by employees or family members, so I don't know an exact number," she explains.
Employee access is important
To make the program easily accessible for employees of the agency that has 12 offices in multiple counties in Florida and Alabama, it was important to find an EAP provider with resources that spread throughout the area served by Covenant, she says. "For an EAP to be a real benefit, employees have to be able to use it without disrupting their personal or work life," she explains.
Little considers the benefit an important part of employee retention. Her hospice's agreement with the EAP provider requires an annual payment of $1,500 to cover all 65 employees. The flat fee arrangement, as compared to a fee per utilization, works for her hospice because it is easier to budget the expense, she says.
"We have some months when no employees access the service, but we have other months when utilization is high," Little says. The ability to predict the payments and build a set amount into the budget is an advantage for her agency. "Overall, the EAP is an effective way to offer additional support to employees, which increases retention and decreases the need to replace and train new employees," Little adds.
Covenant and Home Hospice of Grayson County's EAP benefits extend to immediate family members in addition to the employees. "Employees or their family members each get three free visits to an EAP counselor each year," says Holtman. The hospice's health insurance does cover visits to mental health counselors, so she recommends that employees verify that they can continue seeing the same counselor if needed beyond the three EAP visits.
'"We encourage employees to ask the counselor at the first visit if the hospice's health insurance is accepted in case the employee and counselor decide that more than three visits are required," Holtman says.
Information about the EAP is given to employees at orientation, in the new employee handbook, and in frequent articles included in the hospice newsletter that regularly spotlights different benefits, she says. If supervisors or managers notice changes in an employee's behavior that indicate a possible personal problem that might be affecting job performance, they might encourage or recommend that an employee contact the EAP, but the hospice does not mandate use of an EAP, Holtman says.
a. Home Hospice of Grayson County, there are circumstances in which an employee is required to work with an EAP counselor, says Little. "For example, we had an employee who had a family member with whom she was very close die. Her grief affected her interactions with co-workers and began to affect her ability to do her job when the behavior continued for a long period of time," she says.
a. part of counseling the employee about her job performance, the supervisor included a requirement that the employee see the EAP counselor on a weekly basis for the first month, then as frequently as the counselor and employee thought necessary afterward.
"Although the utilization reports from the EAP identify employees by a number to protect their privacy, when visits are mandated as part of a performance issue, I ask the EAP to verify that the employee did meet with the counselor as mandated," Little says. Confidentiality of the visits is maintained because Little does not ask for specifics or content of the counseling sessions, just for verification that the employee followed through on the visit.
Because hospice employees are asked to give so much of themselves to support and help others in their workdays, make sure hospice employees receive the same support, says Little. "An EAP is one benefit that provides an additional level of support that lets our employees know that they are appreciated," she says. "It is proof that we do care about their wellbeing."