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Employee assistance programs should be measured by achievement of objectives

Employee assistance programs should be measured by achievement of objectives

Midsize employers seeking to gauge the effectiveness of their employee assistance programs should focus on whether the EAP is achieving the objectives set when it was implemented.

For example, if the employer instituted an EAP as part of a risk management program designed to reduce occupational injuries or expedite employees' return to work, it should measure how it is affecting workers compensation costs, experts suggest.

If the objective is to enhance employee productivity by reducing absenteeism and presenteeism, the employer could survey employees to determine whether they are experiencing greater work engagement, experts say.

“Companies that invest a little time and money on monitoring their EAPs will get a huge return on investment in those services,” said Jodi Jacobson Frey, chair of Employee Assistance Program Subspecialization at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work in Baltimore. She also advises employers to use “Selecting and Strengthening Employee Assistance Programs: A Purchasers Guide” by the Employee Assistance Society of North America.

The guide, which is available free at, includes questions such as, “What outcomes should my EAP be linked to?” Ms. Frey said, which also can be helpful to employers determining their objectives in implementing an EAP.

The metrics that employers use to evaluate the effectiveness of their EAP offering “can't be general,” she said. “It depends on the objective that the employer hopes to achieve. For example, some employers want their EAPs to be part of their risk management program, to improve return to work post-injury. Companies that don't have formal disability management programs might use their EAP for this service.”

Kim Jinnett, research director at the Integrated Benefits Institute in San Francisco, suggests employers use employee performance measures, such as absenteeism and presenteeism, to measure EAP effectiveness, “because our research and that of others demonstrates that individuals experiencing high levels of work, family or financial stress are absent more and perform more poorly at work.”

Indeed, the IBI's recent study of time off taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act “demonstrated a significant relationship between FMLA experience and short-term disability incidence and duration,” Ms. Jinnett said. If an EAP is being used effectively to address issues such as care for sick family members, primary reasons employees use such leave, employees should take less time off and be more productive while at work, she said.

Most EAPs provide employers with utilization reports to demonstrate their effectiveness. But Kathleen Mahieu, leader of the national behavioral health consulting practice at Aon Hewitt in Norwalk, Conn., said employers should look beyond utilization reports and examine “the impact on the population and the business” as well as “how the service affected performance, ability to stay at work, overall functioning.”

This can be done relatively effectively using survey tools such as the Workplace Outcomes Suite developed by Chestnut Global Partners L.L.C. Such tools ask EAP users qualitative questions at the beginning, middle and end of their counseling (see related story).

In addition, Ms. Mahieu suggests comparing this self-reported data against attendance records to verify the outcome measures. “Most employers today focus on utilization. That is one very important metric, but we've got to move away from how many access the EAP to the impact on the population and the business.”

“If you just look at the surface level, all EAPs look the same,” Ms. Mahieu said. “The first question I always ask employers is, "What do you want from your EAP?' An EAP can do and be many things, but it's important to define what you want the EAP program to look like.”

Sometimes a simple metric such as utilization reports can help determine whether the right services are being provided for the population being served, said Mike Garfield, senior vice president of global business development at ComPsych Corp., an EAP based in Chicago.

“We can focus our visibility in the upcoming time period based on the issues that seem to be the most important for that organization during the previous three or six months,” he said. “If a large part of their population is talking to financial professionals about selling or buying homes, moving or credit card debt, we can plan with the organization a strategy of holding seminars or webinars on managing a budget.”