Does your veterinary hospital need an employee assistance program?

May 2, 2019
Cory Friedman

Cory Friedman is VP of benefits consulting at Alera Group and leads Alera Veterinary, which has been the preferred provider of employee benefit services to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) since 2009.

With the high cost of hiring and retaining veterinary practice employees, it's time to consider the mental health benefits of employee assistance programs (EAPS) to keep your team on track for success.

When your team's mental health suffers, so do your patients and your practice. Here's how an employee assistance program could help. (Prostock-studio/stock.adobe.com)

Is an employee assistance program (EAP) worth it?

The return on investment of an EAP for your veterinary practice could  be well worth the outlay in terms of:

• Lower health care costs (for some employers)

• Fewer disability claims

• Less absenteeism

• Higher productivity and focus

• Improved employee morale

• Fewer workplace accidents

• Higher retention

Employee productivity is vital to the success of any veterinary hospital, and those who are overwhelmed by personal or behavioral problems cannot perform at their best. What's more, psychological problems, alcohol and substance abuse, financial troubles and other personal or work-related stressors can lead to increased absenteeism, greater health risks and more costly health claims. Not only are these circumstances undesirable for an employer, but it is costly to recruit and train a replacement for the struggling employee, especially if that individual is a valuable asset to the practice.

Many businesses today (but maybe too few veterinary hospitals) offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) as a way to help maintain the mental well-being of staff. An EAP offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to help employees deal with personal and/or work-related problems.

Programs typically also include crisis intervention and consultation services and training for managers regarding employee performance issues. They can also offer employee education, evaluation, hotlines, counseling and/or referrals. EAPs can be run by the practice, outsourced through an independent EAP provider or a combination of the two.

The cost of an EAP can vary depending on which services are offered, whether it's administered in-house or outsourced, and the number of counselors employed. Also included in the cost is the time employees spend away from work while receiving EAP services. Startup costs can be high because many employees might be referred for counseling or treatment all at once; however, the return on investment can be worth it (see the "Is an EAP worth it?" box).

My recommendation is that practices offering an EAP should include a policy statement, which communicates to employees the services offered, how to obtain those services, an assurance that the program won't jeopardize their job or reputation and a promise of confidentiality (plus any exceptions to the confidentiality agreement). Employers should also create a communication campaign to generate employee awareness and understanding of the program.

Cory Friedman is VP of benefits consulting at Alera Group and leads Alera Veterinary, which has been the American Animal Hospital Association's preferred provider of employee benefit services since 2009 and recently introduced an EAP with the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association.