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Job Stress and EAPs - The Pros and Cons

The World Health Organization (WHO) calls stress the "health epidemic of the 21st century." Stress is estimated to cost American employers up to $300 billion a year.

ComPsych, a provider of employee assistance programs (EAPs), conducted a survey of 2,500 employees on workplace stress. The study showed that almost half of all workers suffer from moderate to severe stress on the job. Sixty-six percent of employees have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress. Meanwhile, 21 percent of employees say stress was the reason for errors or missed deadlines, and 15.5 percent of workers had trouble getting along with coworkers because of stress. Because of stress, almost 15 percent missed work, and 14.4 percent cited stress as a reason for being late for work.

Behavioral disability costs have increased more than 300 percent in the past decade and account for 30 percent of all disability claims. Some medical doctors say that stress is the cause of illness and underlies at least 70 percent of all family physician visits.

According to experts, although the economic recession was a major source of workplace stress, recovery will not likely bring significant improvement. Concern about job stability can create stress because employers remain focused on maintaining high levels of productivity with fewer employees. "Employees Reveal How Stress Affects Their Jobs," www.businessnewsdaily.com (Mar. 28, 2012).

Commentary

Compounding the effects of stress, many people engage in unhealthy behaviors like comfort eating, other poor diet choices, smoking, and inactivity to help deal with stress. These behaviors may actually lead to another group of health problems, including respiratory ailments, diabetes and obesity.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are employer-sanctioned, confidential counseling programs that offer to help employees manage stress. According to the source article, employee assistance programs help reduce employee stress, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve productivity. Studies have also shown that EAPs have a direct impact on lowering disability claims.

However, EAP programs are not without critics. One issue critics raise is that employees may discuss workplace risks with EAP representatives rather than with the employer. For example, an employee might disclose sexual harassment to the EAP representative instead of reporting it to the employer, who is responsible for responding to and correcting the situation.

Other concerns include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and other federal laws that safeguard employee health issues and medical records from disclosure.

Most believe that the value of EAPs outweighs their potential risks. It is important, however, to make sure EAP providers are trained on what they can or cannot say or do regarding employee health issues, and train them regarding an appropriate response, should an employee report an employment issue to them.
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