One of the most prevalent mental health programs used by large businesses — including Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree; Douglas County School District; and Kroger, which operates King Soopers grocery stores — is the Employee Assistance Program, a resource to help employees with stressors in their work and home lives.
An EAP is a confidential, voluntary program and offers services that employees can access — such as counseling and referrals — which are paid for by the business.
The U.S. Department of Labor describes EAPs as “expected benefits” whose purpose is to help employees improve productivity by providing guidance for mental health and personal issues.
A 2016 study from Chestnut Global Partners, an international and national EAP provider, found an increasing demand for EAP services due to stress.
Each EAP can look different depending on the company and can include a variety of services for family problems, mental health issues, legal trouble and drug abuse. The idea of an EAP is to help employees in the short-run and point employees in the right direction for long-term health, benefits directors say.
EAPs provide support in larger businesses
DCSD has found pairing its EAP with a peer-involvement program is the best way to positively affect employee mental health, said Rosa Reynolds, the district’s benefits director.
They’re “avenues toward a healthier lifestyle, even if that means taking a five-minute walk every day” or providing healthy snacks, she said. “It’s an all-encompassing program where essentially everyone has the pieces they need for their lifestyle as well as their dependents.”
According to a 2012 study from the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research organization that studies the changing workforce, families and communities, 74 percent of employers offered an EAP, including 93 percent of large employers.
EAPs are typically facilitated by the company’s human resources department, which provides resources and direction for help to the employee. Many EAPs offer the option to talk over the phone with a nurse on health decisions or information on counseling or health services.
EAPs do not provide financial support directly to employees, but the program can offer a service for financial guidance.
Kroger’s EAP offers counseling, work-life services and other wellness programs for its more than 20,000 employees in Colorado.
“The well-being of our associates, at every level of need and life stages, is important to us,” said Athar Bilgrami, the human resources director for King Soopers and City Market. “We believe supporting the emotional health and well-being of our employees helps them to focus on providing the best service to our guests and the communities we serve when at work.”
Sky Ridge, a HealthOne hospital, also offers extensive EAP benefits for employees, including counseling services to help them through difficult or traumatic times.
Doctors and nurses “live in this environment all the time, but they’re terrible about going to the doctor,” said Jorie Matijevich, human resources administrator at Sky Ridge. “It’s something they’re just not taught to focus on because they’re always taught to help others. I think that’s a mentality we really tried to change here.”
Small changes can make a big difference
EAPs are less affordable for smaller businesses because they are designed for larger companies that struggle to impact every employee personally, according to Chestnut Global Partners. EAPs make it efficient to help a larger number of employees.
Smaller employers often implement creative solutions to handle personal issues with employees — such as more flexible hours to daily routine changes — and each can differ in the methods they use.
Lovett Family Chiropractic, for instance, a family-owned business in Centennial with about a dozen employees, can’t afford to hire a mental health consultant, said Bridget Lovett, who handles the business’ marketing and communications.
So Lovett and her husband, Patrick Lovett, focus on instilling a sense of fun amid the daily workload. “Mandatory Fun Time!” — written in black sharpie in capital letters on an index card below a checklist of things to do — is a reminder to take time to decompress.
The office has had cartwheel competitions, meetings that take place as employees walk around the block, morning laser tag.
There is no designated time that is “fun time,” Bridget Lovett said. But she wants to make sure her employees make time for it because “it’s the little things” that make the difference.
Jim Gosselin of AmCheck, a payroll firm in Stapleton, offers extensive EAP benefits to his staff based on his own breakthroughs with mental health. He found once he implemented activities like daily stretching and rest reminders, in-office yoga classes and onsite massages, supplemented with an EAP service, the productivity of his employees skyrocketed.
“We have a long way to come in removing the stigma that comes with brain health,” Gosselin said. “But there are more and more resources available to businesses to help guide them on how to handle mental illness appropriately in the workplace.”