Steve Baue carries a unique two-sided business card: One side states his role as president and CEO of ERC Counselors & Consultants in De Pere, while the other side promotes his consulting and coaching business, Steve Baue LLC. Baue, who left the corporate world just over five years ago when he purchased ERC, told Insight that the duality of the card fits him well since both of his pursuits focus on helping people.
How did you go from working in HR for global companies to purchasing ERC Counselors & Consultants, a business that provides employee assistance programs?
Baue: It basically came down to that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. I wanted a job that would get me excited on Monday mornings and where I felt I could do some good. I talked with a lot of people, looked around at different options and came to the conclusion that I wanted to be my own boss. I found out ERC was for sale and it seemed like a good fit. With the separate consulting business, that happened later. I was being approached by businesses to help with organizational change, leaders who were looking for one-on-one coaching or organizations wanting a keynote speaker or a workshop. That was my bread and butter when I worked in the corporate world, so it made sense to branch out a business that way.
To me, owning ERC is about making a difference. Businesses contract with us to provide their employees with free, confidential mental health services. We partner with 300 companies and cover 90,000 lives. Now, I may own a business that provides mental health services, but I am by no means a counselor. I rely on the subject matter experts — our counselors — and my job is to make it easier for them to do their jobs, which is helping people. I hope by talking about what we do gets more people to think about the importance of mental health and that employers can’t ignore the issue. For example, research shows that 60 percent of employees walk in to work
each day with something big on their mind. Between 18 and 20 percent of those would benefit from counseling, but there’s usually only a 3.9 percent utilization rate for mental health benefits. That’s a number we need to change.
How does your process work? Employers have information they post on their intranet or signs in common places about who to call if people feel like they could benefit from counseling. The worker calls the number and we schedule the first appointment — we try to get people in quickly, maybe even that day. We leave open slots in our scheduling. The person comes in and meets with a counselor. After that, we have usually seven more sessions. With the eight-session program, we have a 90 to 95 percent resolution rate. Everything is confidential. We have a separate entrance and exit at our De Pere office and several waiting rooms to help patients have additional privacy. With EAP services, the employee pays nothing, and the employer does not know who is using the EAP service. Sometimes, our counselors discover someone who may have a mental illness and then we guide that person to the proper resources so he can get the care he needs.
You surprised me when you said work-related stress wasn’t among the top reasons employees seek out EAP services. The No. 1 reason people come to see us is a marriage or relationship issue. That’s followed by depression, anxiety, grief and then children/family issues. We have definitely seen an increase in the number of people seeing us for anxiety — a lot of that is from the world we live in. There’s a lot of things going on right now for us to be anxious about.
We feel we have a good care plan to offer businesses and their employees. When I talk to businesses about ERC, I stress that providing these services helps their employees and that in the long run, they will feel better about their situation and become better workers. We really want it acknowledged and recognized that mental health is part of your overall health, and there’s a need to be more aware of that.
Switching gears to your consulting business, worker attraction and retention is a major concern for businesses. Through your organizational development work, what have you learned about how organizations can find and keep their employees? The organization has to be true to itself. If you have a billboard on the highway that says, “Come grow with us,” but in actuality when someone starts working there and sees there’s really not a true path for growth, he gets disengaged. Employees usually leave when the picture they have in their heads about what the job would be isn’t what they are seeing in reality. To get employees to stay, businesses need to offer growth opportunities, help employees develop their skills and provide them with support so employees feel the passion for what they do. Employers who just send out the message, “You’ll be happy working here” are really missing the boat.