The Cost of Distractions

Make your EAP a partner for more productive employees

Posted on Dec 15, 2016 :: Guest Insights.
Steve Baue
Posted by of Insight Publications

While you’re focusing time and effort on controlling costs and investing in efficiency, you may be missing one of the biggest productivity killers there is.

Giving your employees a means to deal with these distractions improves productivity, quality, safety, employee engagement and job satisfaction, and reduces absenteeism, benefit costs and workplace conflict.

You may have a counseling benefit called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) intended to help with distractions, but is your provider really having an impact? First, let’s start with definitions. Mental wellness is not mental illness, so don’t treat them the same. Even the term ‘mental health’ causes concern among employers and employees because it’s used interchangeably with mental illness. Instead, let’s think of mental health in a spectrum: Mental wellness, mental health and mental illness.

Mental Wellness Just as people can improve their physical health by exercising, eating right, or getting a good night’s rest, being proactive about mental wellness can build the skill sets and behaviors necessary to cope with life’s challenges before they happen. Mental wellness is our ability to handle stress, build strong relationships, recover from setbacks, and derive meaning and joy from life. These positive behaviors are often called resilience and can be learned and developed.

Mental Health We all have feelings of depression and anxiety, we all have behaviors of phobias and addictions, and most of us can handle and cope with the levels we experience. But when life turns – such as marriage/family concerns, a death in the family, or when job issues increase our stress levels – we may find ourselves struggling with the amplified feelings of depression and anxiety. We may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. The body’s natural and most effective method of rebalancing stress is via face-to-face contact with a trained, trusted individual.

Mental Illness We all experience mental health concerns from time to time. But when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent or constant stress and affect the ability to function and engage with others, a mental illness is possible. Often, mental illness is rooted in biology and does not always come with a cure. These illnesses can take a huge toll on an individual and their families and often require a combination of therapy, medication, and even occasional hospitalization.

Your EAP should be a true partner in Mental Wellness and Mental Health and a resource for Mental Illness. You often get what you pay for. “Free” or health care sponsored EAPs struggle to remove everyday distractions. Health care providers may offer discounted EAP services through their psychiatric services, but you are most likely not dealing with EAP-trained counselors. There is also a hidden incentive for converting a “patient” to longer-term, insurance billed services. Those costs are passed along to you and your employees. And yes, some insurance services offer “free” EAPs, but they don’t provide the actual counseling – but rather direct you to a call center of counselors-for-hire. Most of those counselors specialize in mental illness, not mental wellness and mental health. Because insurance companies are billed by these counselors for each hour, they are financially motivated to not have your employees call. Is a benefit a benefit when no one uses it?


Steve Baue, president and owner of ERC, spent more than 20 years in organizational development and corporate Human Resources, both domestically and internationally, for some of Wisconsin’s largest manufacturers.