Employee Assistance Programs are More Essential than Ever

Springtime triggers extended health benefit plan renewals for many of our clients. It is always a busy but favourite time of year for us at Bensol – an opportunity to meet with our customers to catch up and explore how their benefit needs may have changed as we look to the year ahead. Sadly, this year we’ve had to meet on Zoom instead of in an office, café or pub. Soon, I know. Soon.

Many clients have been asking how the pandemic has affected benefit claims, and what we can expect for the next couple of years. If we’ve learned anything through this, it’s that we can’t easily predict what will come next. However, some interesting information is beginning to emerge that give us some insight into how claims may change and how employers can support their teams and set the stage for maximum productivity while keeping extended health benefit costs in check.

Some recent updates from Equitable Life suggest modest increases in some area such as vision and dental care as practitioners have realized extra costs due to PPE. Most critically, insurance carriers are anticipating a spike in mental health related claims such as counselling and Long Term Disability (LTD). One leading indicator, they say, is the increase in claims for mental health drugs since the beginning of the pandemic.

Not coincidentally, many of our conversations with clients have focused not only on predicted costs but on the well-being of their teams. This year more than ever we have been reminded that the employers we work with have a deeply personal commitment to taking care of the people they employ. As one client that shifted to fully virtual work for their employees said recently, “the pandemic made it harder for us to see how our team was really doing mentally, and to make sure they were okay. We found ways because they are important to us. We really do see our staff as part of our family, and we know we have a responsibility here to take care of them.”

Our clients’ genuine interest in their people reminds us why we do this work. Supporting employees’ mental health needs is now more than a “nice to have” – company policies need to ensure a work environment that helps people cope with the lingering realities of the pandemic. Open and honest communication, quiet spaces for people to collect themselves, schedule and workload flexibility, and just plain empathy and understanding are good steps toward an open and caring employment culture. We touched on this theme on our blog back in April (the subject bears repeating) and this article from Harvard Business Review offers some useful suggestions.

As well, committing to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of your extended health benefits plan gives employees and their families 24/7 access to accredited counsellors for mental health and related concerns such as financial worry, family or job pressures, and grief. Personally, I was grateful to have these benefits during COVID: working at home alongside my equally-busy husband, with our 9-year-old twins wrestling with at-home schooling, having occasionally difficult conversations with worried clients and processing my own worries about the pandemic all took their toll and our Employee Assistance Program was very helpful.

If an EAP is not in your plan currently, give it serious consideration: it’s a modest investment of about $5 per month per employee that not only helps support them, but can result in significant bottom line business benefits such as increased productivity, creativity, loyalty and reduced benefit costs overall if employees are kept at work and off of Long Term Disability.

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