If ever there was a business sector for which Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) were made to order it would be construction.

EAPs are employer-sponsored programs offering services to help employees deal with the various personal issues that might affect their work-life balance; from relationships and emotions to finances. Services provide options to the unhealthy solutions like substance abuse that they might otherwise use to handle stress.

Construction is known to be rife with behavioral risk factors stemming from a taxing and dangerous work environment. It has one of the highest rates of suicide (53.3 per 100,000 population), a 5% to 10% higher spend on opioids than any other sector, and 15% of construction workers use illegal drugs.

While specific data on how many employers in the construction industry offer EAPs isn’t available, it’s generally understood that they are a smart addition for firms to make to their employee benefits lineup. There’s a business cost when employee distractions affect their attendance, productivity and overall performance. At a minimum, an EAP will return a $3 savings for every $1 invested.

But that’s assuming utilization of the programs and there’s the rub. The behavioral issues affecting workers and the construction industry don’t seem to be going away. Yet EAPs tend to be underused. Some estimates put use rates at 1% to 2% for small to mid-sized firms. That’s probably no surprise when many programs are low-cost, bare-boned add-ons to other benefit programs. Or when employers have an “if you build it they will come” mentality. (They won’t.)

Construction industry employers that want to get at the root of the problem need to look at safety, absenteeism, and productivity issues from a solutions oriented mindset, rather than blame the industry. Simply talking about it won’t move the needle. Any business can start by taking three simple steps:

  1. Establish the company’s EAP framework. Many construction employers have never been supplied or asked for an EAP utilization report. This information is critical for gauging use of these services overall and can provide insights into any specific needs that might require attention. In some scenarios your employees may have an EAP provided by their local union, separate from any non-union employees. Make it your business to secure the contact information for these programs in the event an employee asks for information. While it may not be your program, enough barriers to accessing care already exist, take initiative to pave the way when someone is reaching out for assistance. Eligibility must also be spelled out and communicated – employee and dependents, or expanded coverage for other family members? Policies should be set on including the EAP in the open enrollment and onboarding processes. Exceptional organizations also make it a practice to have employees take out their phones and enter the number for their EAP in real time.
  2. Assess EAP’s capabilities. One critical aspect is ensuring the quality and accessibility of the EAP’s emergency crisis care is satisfactory. When the need for assistance strikes, any barriers to care can have a resounding impact. Test the after-hours access as well to ensure someone answers, and in the event they do, how they handle the call. Many EAP’s also offer a virtual counselor approach and users can chat with a live professional if they are not comfortable vocalizing their issues. In the age of digital transformation, mental health has kept up, match your company needs to the right resource. An important point of consideration is the credentialing of the counselors; have they been trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention? Are the counselors equipped to address substance abuse issues? What other resources does it offer? In many cases, an employee may just need access to an online library of resources, verify your EAP’s capabilities to provide the greatest benefit to your people.
  3. Spread the word! A successful rollout of any new program or initiative requires focused communication. Discussing the availability of your EAP alone will not drive employees toward it. Create awareness of its purpose and benefit with any personal statements and relevant statistics your program will provide. Print out wallet cards, hardhat stickers, and job site posters to improve access to services. It is not uncommon for this topic to be discussed only once a year during open enrollment, but is that enough? Removing the stigma associated with mental health requires shining a light on the solutions available. Maximize your efforts by leveraging national awareness campaigns like Mental Health Month in May, or Suicide Prevention Week in September. These are opportune times to revisit the topic and further demonstrate your commitment. Use these events to ground the seriousness of the issue, as well as the heightened risk that construction workers face. When informing your employees on what the services are, who is covered, and how to access them opt for in person informational sessions over paycheck stuffers or flyers, they are often discarded before they are read.

In today’s connected world, all too often those who have heavy personal loads can’t keep them from carrying over into their work lives. This can be particularly dangerous when the work is construction. The employers that offer EAPs and do the job of getting the word out aren’t just doing the smart thing for their businesses. They’re doing the right thing for their people.

HUB International’s consultants are available to work with you on trends and developments that may impact your risk posture today and in the future.