What Your Staff Really Wants in an Employee Assistance Program

December 4, 2023
Employee Assistance Program

Organizations that focus on employee well-being and satisfaction build strong cultures and reduce their turnover. Achieving a “happy, productive staff” goal means assisting employees in managing their work and personal lives. Employee assistance programs help companies go that extra mile.

As part of an employee benefits program, EAPs can deliver solid solutions for meeting employees’ needs and keeping them motivated and productive. And because EAPs can comprise any combination of an array of employee assistance services, they're not all the same. Companies can tailor their EAPs to best suit their people. To do that, they must have insight into what their employees will find most valuable in an assistance program. This often begins with problem identification.

Here are three real-world scenarios in which EAP services provide solutions to common issues, ultimately benefiting workers and the entire organization.

My employee can’t find childcare and wants to bring their child to work

For many workers, childcare options are limited. Many are forced to rely on family members, babysitters and friends. When those caregivers are ill or unavailable, the employee has a problem. And so does the company.

Some staff members simply call out the day. Others ask if they can bring their child with them. The choice between managing while short-staffed or allowing an infant, toddler or tween on the premises is a difficult one.

Help for working parents with childcare issues

Two viable options can address the employee childcare conundrum.

Many companies provide onsite daycare with facilities that allow parents to bring their children to a center on the premises. This solution allows the parent to visit the child during lunch and on breaks. These facilities may be cost-prohibitive to most employers. However, your organization may be able to negotiate discounts or occasional drop-ins with local daycare centers. This low-cost benefit might be a tipping point in favor of attracting and retaining talent.

Bringing the kids to work in the absence of childcare is another option. As you decide whether kids at work will be allowed, consider the following questions.

Is the workplace safe?

Companies must consider the child's well-being when crafting this policy. An office may be more amenable to bringing kids to work than the factory floor is. You might allow restaurant servers to keep their children front-of-the-house and under a watchful eye when childcare isn’t available. However, kitchen staff may not have that luxury. Consider that allowing some groups of employees the benefit while denying it to others could seem unfair, even discriminatory.

Will the child's presence affect productivity?

An occasional visit from a child may slightly affect work performance as coworkers stop by to meet and greet. Babies who sleep most of the day, or children who read, study or create, might not present a problem. But kids who run around the building looking for something to keep them occupied will.

Will customers be impacted?

Customers may not be happy to see children on-site. Depending on the type of business you run, kids don’t typically present the most professional image. If there are a lot of people coming in and out, your employees will have to be vigilant to make sure their child stays put.

What will keep the child occupied?

Eight hours is a long time to keep any child occupied, even at home. When it's essential so the parent can work, it's a bigger challenge. If you have a space where they can run around safely or engage in something constructive, you may be in luck. If not, the parent will need to supervise and bring enough do-by-yourself activities to minimize disruption.

What age range is acceptable?

For some businesses, infants and pre-teens are easier to welcome to the workplace. Infants often sleep most of the day aside from their need to be fed or changed. Pre-teens can occupy themselves doing homework and/or constructive play for hours.

Creating a kid-friendly policy

If you decide to allow children at work when childcare isn’t available, set up some parameters.

Employees should make arrangements in advance. They should get approval from their supervisor. You might set a limit to one child per employee, or allow for more.

Consider acceptable age ranges. Some companies successfully allow infants up to 6 months old on-site to help retain employees. For other organizations, kids who arrive at the office after school are acceptable. Remember, whatever your policy, it shouldn’t pit employees against one another. If you’re only allowing 12-year-olds or older, workers with a 10-year-old may feel slighted.

Outline what physical areas are on- and off-limits to children. Insurance liability aside, you won’t want kids running around disrupting employees or customers or being in places they shouldn’t be.

Lay out and enforce behavioral expectations. Are unruly children running around in public acceptable to you? If not, parents must ensure their children are constantly under their supervision and well-behaved if they have to be on-site.

Last-minute/no-option childcare emergency

What should you do if an employee calls to say their sitter is M.I.A., their child is being sent home from childcare, or they simply show up with a child in tow? If you have a policy in place that prohibits kids at work or outlines parameters, you’ll have an easy time letting them know what is and is not allowed. For the occasional emergency, you might reserve the right to make individual assessments or offer alternative options.

Let the children stay

If you don’t have a policy, you can let the employee know there are insurance liabilities and other issues that don’t allow children on site.

You could also consider allowing them to stay. If you do, weigh need versus cost and risk. How badly do you need that employee to work their shift that day? If they’re truly indispensable, you have your answer. If they’re not, send them home to attend to their child and try to find alternate care if needed for the next day.

Allow your employee to work remotely

Is it possible for the employee to work remotely for the day? If that’s an option, let them know they’re free to work from home. Just make sure childcare doesn’t become a reason an employee who should be on-site like their peers gets to work remotely instead.

Find a childcare policy solution that works for everyone

Depending on your organization and staff, a childcare policy might be worth considering. Find a way to allow kids that will have the least impact. But do so only if you can allow it for every worker in the company. If you can’t offer the benefit to everyone, don't offer it to anyone.

We want to assist employees who need help due to gas price increases

Many American workers are being hit hard by gas prices. Business leaders who want to help staffers may have to get creative. There are several low- to no-cost ways you can help employees get to work with a smaller impact on their budget.

Paying the price

A temporary bump in salary or an additional gas allowance per week can ease the burden. The challenge is to dole these perks out fairly. For employees who typically commute by public transportation, there might be no benefit. For those who commute from nearby locations, the bump might be appreciated but barely needed. Those who commute a long distance may see the bump only make a dent in their rising cost to get to work. Talk with staff members to determine an amount that would help, then determine whether it’s affordable for the business.

If you plan to offer a cash benefit or a temporary increase, offer it to all staff members. Disabled workers, for example, may not drive or own a car. But they still have to get to work, and this may mean they pay someone else to get them there. Not offering them a benefit based directly or indirectly on the effects of their disability may be considered disparate treatment.

Remember that any cash or cash equivalent (like pre-paid gas credit cards) is considered taxable income that will need to be reported on your workers’ W-2 form.

Cut out the commute

If you’re already allowing remote or hybrid work, it might be worthwhile to continue doing so. If you haven’t considered remote work, it might be worth investigating. Allowing staff to work from home half the time could offset their commuter cost increases.

Drive smarter

Many resources are available that help people drive smarter and more efficiently. If your workers can’t afford to trade in their gas guzzler for a more economical vehicle, provide information on how to get the most mileage from whatever car they drive. For example, low tire pressure typically reduces gas mileage.

Perks for leaving the car at home

Businesses can offer perks for workers who opt out of driving with alternative methods of getting to work. Commuter benefits provide incentives for staff members who use public transportation or other means.

The Bicycle Commuter Act of 2023 was introduced to Congress in May. It would allow employees to receive a bicycle benefit of up to 30% of employer-offered parking benefits. This incentive would reduce fuel costs and might also help workers get in shape.

Some companies offer indoor or secure bike parking to further encourage riding to work on a bike or motorized bike. Whenever you post a new position, include these perks in the ad; they may open you to a wider range of applicants.

Pool resources

Consider developing a voluntary carpool program that allows workers to join another employee’s commute. Employees can share the cost of gas, cutting their out-of-pocket expenses by half or more if multiple workers share the ride.

Staff members may need someone to help with logistics. One person can look into who’s interested in participating and if they’re on route. It may take a bit of coordination, but in the end, it could mean significant savings on gas for workers.

Shuttle services

If your company is close — but not close enough — to public transportation, consider a shuttle service. One of your own larger vehicles makes the repeated rounds to and from the company and the nearest bus or train stop at the beginning and end of shifts. Shuttles help employees who are close to public transportation at home but not work, eliminating the need to drive entirely.

We want to support our employees' mental health

Building a comprehensive program that offers employees the tools they need to stay mentally healthy is a priceless EAP service. Member assistance programs targeting mental health may include:

Short-term counseling sessions

Employees experiencing personal problems, like struggling through a divorce or grief, may benefit from talking with a professional. EAPs that offer services for counseling can help staff members overcome life challenges.

Substance abuse and alcoholism

Drug and alcohol abuse can cause serious issues with professional development, employee engagement, punctuality and relationships among coworkers. Adding substance-abuse counseling services to the company's EAP can get individuals back on track.

Crisis management

Unforeseen catastrophes like the death of a loved one, a medical diagnosis or financial issues can make an employee spiral. Equipping them to digest and deal with these issues helps their mental and physical health.

Partner with TriNet to build and maintain a successful EAP

Many EAP benefits far outweigh the costs, making for a lucrative return on investment. Employers can begin with a management consultation to decide which types of services to offer and how to set up each policy. From there, promote the program to employees so they know help is there when they need it.

Need guidance on setting up your company's EAP? TriNet can help you understand your options and sort out the most effective solutions. Contact us today to get started.

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