There are two things wrong with employee assistance programs (EAPs). One is that employees don’t know anything about them, the other is that supervisors don’t know how to tap into them.

According to Carolyn McCann, a community relations representative for Princeton HealthCare System, companies set up EAPs to provide workers with company-sponsored counseling services, but often do not understand the value of the resource. And often, when EAPs are tapped into, it is so late in the game that minor issues require major repair.

On Friday, January 6, Princeton HealthCare will launch a monthly luncheon program intended to help companies and employers understand the value of what they have.

The series will feature presentations on various health and counseling topics on the first Friday of each month, beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the PHCS Community Education and Outreach Office at 731 Alexander Road. The sessions are free and lunch is provided, but registration is necessary. E-mail cmccann@princetonhcs.org for more details.

The program, says McCann, will stress prevention and will feature topics such as dealing with difficult employees, workplace violence, and managing drug and alcohol abuse issues for supervisors.

Monthly sessions will be conducted by PHCS workers who regularly present on-site seminars to employees on topics such as conflict resolution, stress management, and balancing work and family. The series’ opening salvo will be an introduction to an EAP and its benefits.

EAP is “confidential, short-term counseling for employees and family members,” paid for by the employer, McCann says. Programs are intended to help employees through tough times at work or home, but they also are supposed to offer ways for employees to get more out of their work day. If a problem is serious, such as substance abuse or addiction, company supervisors are supposed to refer employees toward external help.

But EAPs are not often talked about in companies, McCann says. In some cases it is because of the stigma people attach to counseling. But in a lot of other cases, she says, managers and supervisors do not tap into the programs until it comes down to the point of firing someone. Supervisors simply do not know how to recognize signs of trouble with an employee until it escalates into something obvious, such as aggression.

Valerie Salico, Princeton HealthCare’s EAP program manager, says behaviors such as excessive tardiness, withdrawal, or excessive absenteeism are clear — and early — signs of trouble ahead. Princeton HealthCare’s EAP programs provide tools supervisors need to recognize these behaviors in employees and provide preventative intervention.

By the time a company is ready to fire someone for problem behavior, McCann says, it’s often too late for the company and the employee to settle the situation easily. “It costs big money to fire someone and hire someone new,” she says. And the employee, already angry, is now angry and rejected.

PHCS provides its services via a yearly contract that allows companies to tap into PHCS’s array of counseling resources. Generally, Salico says, the most common reason employees tap into an EAP is general stress, whether at home or at work. Many people need help balancing work and home lives, and many seek counseling regarding how to deal with a co-worker. But PHCS’s counselors see people struggling with marriage or legal problems too, as well as those contending with depression or anxiety. “Really, people call us for everything,” Salico says.

Part of the thrust behind the program, McCann says, is to show companies how an EAP can be good for business. A happier employee is a more engaged employee, and any employee that can be reached before trouble brews is far less likely to become disruptive (or even destructive) to the company.

“We want this to be more about prevention,” McCann says. “Too often when people find out about us I hear ‘I wish I would have known sooner.’”

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