How Employee Assistance Programs Drive Better Workers’ Comp Outcomes
Workplace injuries are stressful for employees in multiple ways. Of course, there is the physical pain of the injury and recovery process itself. Limitations on physical function are at minimum frustrating for injured workers and, depending on the severity of the injury, can instill fear about whether a return to baseline function is even possible.
This can feed a downward spiral of anxiety. Among other concerns, an injured worker may also worry about their place in the workforce and their overall ability to contribute, the impact on their long-term job security, their ability to earn enough income for themselves or their families, and their ability to save for retirement.
“When an injured employee goes through a traumatic event, it impacts them mentally as well as physically. It affects their sense of self-worth, and these negative feelings can subsequently impair physical recovery,” said Steven Wagner, AVP of Workers’ Compensation, Workpartners.
Helping employees to address these concerns and alleviate stress goes a long way in bolstering the recovery process and hastening return to work, with clear benefits for both employee and employer. Unfortunately, these multifaceted implications of a workplace injury are often beyond the scope of what workers’ compensation programs are designed to manage.
Some carriers, like Workpartners®, go above and beyond simply paying medical bills to address the whole health of their clients’ employees. EAPs are one way to do this that not only aid injured workers through the recovery process but may help to reduce injuries in the first place.
Cornerstones of an Effective EAP
An effective EAP supports an employee’s recovery and helps expedite that employee’s return to work in the following ways:
1) Counseling for improved mental health
Even outside the realm of workers’ compensation, poor mental health among employees has negative consequences for employers including poor productivity, increased absenteeism, higher turnover and increased risk of injury.
According to a Gallup study conducted in 2022, U.S. workers who report fair or poor mental health also miss four times as many workdays as their coworkers who report good mental health. These missed days are estimated to cost the economy $47.6 billion every year in lost productivity.
Qualified counselors who help employees talk through their stressors and identify coping strategies can better equip workers to handle obstacles and bounce back faster.
“Absenteeism rates are 27% lower in companies that incorporate an EAP compared to those that don’t,” Wagner said.
In the context of workers’ compensation, counselors can specifically address those fears that come with being out of work.
“83% of workers that undergo a significant work injury have stress involved, so mental health is a very pertinent factor that we have to address proactively. The longer you set it aside, the more opportunity exists for that person’s stress levels to move in a negative direction,” Wagner said.
“Just having somebody to talk to is such a morale boost to the injured employee. They tend to have a more positive outlook on going through the workers’ comp claim process, which sets them on the best path to recover and move forward.”
2) Financial guidance
“While only ancillary to a work-related injury, an injured worker’s finances and budget can cause significant stress for that worker,” Wagner said.
An EAP with financial health offerings can again make qualified advisors available to help employees examine and adjust their personal budgets to accommodate changes in expenses or income. This is especially helpful for injured workers who may be out of work for an extended period of time and unable to bring in their usual pay.
“When your income is cut by 30% and you’re expected to continue your normal way of life, some anxiety is going to stem from that,” Wagner said.
“Our team is able to provide some budgetary assistance to help workers understand their expenses — everything from the mortgage to the grocery budget — to regain a sense of control and confidence in their future. It really helps injured workers get through a difficult time.”
Benefits of True EAP and Workers’ Comp Integration
Employers reap the greatest benefit from an EAP when it is truly integrated with their workers’ comp product. Workpartners offers such an all-in-one solution.
“Our goal is to be more than a monoline workers’ comp carrier. Yes, we’re going to handle your claims, we’re going to make sure the medical bills are paid in a timely way, but we’re also going to help individuals deal with traumatic events, manage their stress and recover faster,” Wagner said.
Wagner points to internal expertise and strong provider relationships as the driving forces behind a successful EAP and workers’ comp integration. A medical management department maintains direct communication with medical providers who care for injured workers and can assess a worker’s utilization of the EAP to provide adjusters with a better understanding of that worker’s recovery path.
“It’s an almost instantaneous relay of information that becomes extremely beneficial and progresses the claim in a positive direction,” Wagner said.
Counselors working within Workpartners’ programs also come with appropriate licensure, years of experience, and engage in continuous training to ensure they are equipped to provide the best guidance possible.
A strong data analytics approach also helps to capture information across programs, which guides safety and injury prevention initiatives.
“We purchased a data analytics company several years ago and continuously incorporate analytics in all Workpartners’ products. The data tells a more complete story about what has happened in the past, but also anticipates what may happen in the future,” Wagner said.
“We’ve become very proactive in trying to prevent injuries from occurring by pulling in our risk control safety team to evaluate trends, understand where the risks are from a departmental perspective, and look at strategies to reduce the frequency and severity of claims. That assists us greatly in providing favorable outcomes to our insureds.”
The Importance of Employer Buy-In
It’s important to note that, despite the benefits of an EAP, they mean little without full buy-in and support from employers. It is not enough to implement the program and then step back. Employers are responsible for driving employees to these resources, and for incorporating the EAP with the workers’ comp program. This means ensuring that supervisors, risk managers and others involved in the workers’ comp process are aware of these resources and actively connect injured workers to them.
“Just having the program doesn’t mean it’s 100% effective. Employers have to ensure that the EAP is a part of the standard process when a person is injured at work, and that the follow-through takes place. That is when the results are delivered and the program really pays for itself,” Wagner said.
This is, of course, made easier by true integration between an EAP and a workers’ comp program, which ensures that the two entities communicate openly and leverage resources effectively.
From a best practices perspective, any workers’ compensation program can deliver better outcomes by tying an injured worker’s mental and emotional health into their physical recovery. An employer-backed, integrated EAP — supported by strong data analytics — is an effective way to help cut claim costs and boost overall worker health.
To learn more, visit https://www.workpartners.com/workers-compensation/
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Workpartners. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.