Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) Help Improve Disability Outcomes

Mark Sagor

backup-restoreOur hyper-connected, 24/7, ultra-competitive and globalized work environment is putting extraordinary stress on employees and their families.

The health consequences to individuals and the financial costs to businesses add up to a problem of staggering proportions:

Depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Behavioral disability costs have increased more than 300% in the past decade and account for 30% of all disability claims in the United States.

According to a 2010 study by Mercer more employers are turning to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to assist them with their absence management efforts. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of employees referred to their EAPs after going out on psychiatric disability, medical disability and Family Medical Leave.

EAPs have been the “go to” resource for helping organizations manage alcohol and drug issues and mental health problems since the 1970s but it is only in the last few years that EAPs and health insurance and disability carriers are joining forces to develop systematic and integrated approaches to improving disability outcomes.

An integrated approach to disability management considers the absence in its entirety, including issues related to family and work relationships, rather than focusing exclusively on the medical basis for the claim.

EAPs bring a crucial set of capabilities and skills to help fulfill the mission of an integrated approach:

  • Depression is often a secondary complication of the original impairment or injury in disability cases and can become a significant obstacle to treatment compliance and recovery. Outreach by EAPs can help employees connect with the best and most appropriate mental health treatment resources in a timely fashion.
  • EAPs can help employees overcome non-medical barriers to a successful return to work such as concerns about being “out of the loop,” diminished confidence in job skills after a long period of inactivity, anxiety about re-injury etc.
  • EAPs are well-positioned to support and coach supervisors on managing employee concerns about transitioning back to work.

A 2014 study by the Morneau Sheppell Research group clearly demonstrates that an integrated approach which combines an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with a Short-Term Disability (STD) Management program can “significantly shorten the duration of disability claims.”

Their study examined data from more than 33,000 STD management cases. They found “organizations with a combined EAP and STD program had an average of 27.18 days lost compared with an average of 39.42 days lost among organizations not having a fully integrated program.”

Claims duration in the Integrated EAP and STD Program group were significantly reduced for almost all health conditions:

  • For Endocrine, Nutritional, Metabolic and Immunity Disorders the average STD duration is 43.1 days versus 28.7 days for the Integrated Program.
  • For Nervous System and Sense Organ Disorders the average STD duration is 43.4 days versus 32.0 days for the Integrated Program.
  • For Musculoskeletal and Connective Tissue Disorders the average STD duration is 50.0 days versus 40.3 days for the Integrated Program.
  • For Psychiatric Disorders the average STD duration is 51.5 days versus 42.0 days for the Integrated Program.

EAPs have long been at the forefront of employer efforts to reduce barriers to mental health services in order to treat problems early before they escalate into disability claims. The return on this investment in prevention has been documented in multiple studies.

Health insurance and disability carriers are now, wisely, working with the employer’s EAP to reduce the duration of claims when absences do occur and to develop improved return-to-work strategies and practices.

This emerging trend is a significant win for both employees and employers.