Over the past couple of months, CEDC has been discussing ways to improve and grow our quality workforce. Throughout many of our Business Retention and Expansion (BEAR) visits with local employers, the topic of worker depression and mental health arises in the conversation as an issue. That is in part why CEDC has organized a series of BEAR Lunch & Learns centered around the Support for Communities Program and Better Utilizing EAPs called Your Company CAN Afford an EAP.

Chippewa Valley Employers are seeing more mental health issues in their workforce than ever before. Author Dr. Susan Strauss – a national recognized expert on workforce who has conducted research, written over 30 books, book chapters, and journal articles on workforce depression – notes that many Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s) continue to be underutilized by employees. Workplace depression results in 200 million lost days annually. The disease is common, debilitating, and the number one cause of disability worldwide. Employers lose an estimated $52 billion annually in loss of productivity and insurance payments. So, minimizing the risks to mental health should be a top task of our local workplaces.

Surprisingly, only 54% of companies in the United States offer EAPs. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are resources in the workplace that help employees with personal issues (substance use, mental health) and sudden life changes (eviction, death, birth, natural disaster, etc.) so that they are more likely to retain their employment, be productive to the company, while keeping their life moving in a positive direction. Having an EAP also helps assure current employees that their employer cares about them and their well-being. This caring tends to increase retention and reduces absenteeism for the company.

Another issue that is difficult to talk about, but also negatively impacts the workplace, is drugs and alcohol use. Many employees and their family members often hesitate to reach out for help in fear of serious repercussions from their employer. Fortunately for those companies that have invested in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), their employees and their families don’t have to deal with drug and alcohol-related concerns alone. Company EAPs offers confidential support. By utilizing the EAP, employees and their family members are guaranteed private, personalized, and secure clinical support and resources to address any issue. What employees might not know is that there will be no identifying information going back to the employer, so it is truly confidential. If an employee has a family member who is struggling with substance abuse, utilizing the EAP can help the family member get assistance as well. Reaching out to the EAP is a great first step in dealing with any personal or professional issue an employee may have.

The BEAR Lunch and Learns have also been discussing The Support to Communities Program. The program was created by Workforce Resource, Inc to reduce the increased drug overdoses and deaths within the state of Wisconsin – especially in rural areas around the Chippewa Valley – by reaching the employee before they are subjected to physical danger. The program gives them the financial and technical support they need to better themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally, so that they can live a happy life and positively contribute to their employers and community. Support to the employee includes counseling, case management, and financial assistance. The goal is to increase employee retention and help smaller businesses, who may not have an EAP of their own, get their employees the resources they need.

Small business owners and HR professionals often walk a delicate line in dealing with employees who may have a mental illness or exhibit signs and symptoms that give pause in considering if an employee needs to be referred for outside assistance such as the Support to Communities Program or an EAP. But how does one refer a troubled employee?  What steps should an organization take to create a stigma-free workplace that is centered on the well-being of its employees’ physical and mental health? All of this is discussed during the Bear Lunch and Learn series- Your Company CAN Afford an EAP. I look forward to seeing you at Lunch!