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Employee Assistance Program Aids and Expands

Kristen Smarr, the director of communications at the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), was particularly concerned how well she was managing her small team of six media specialists. Questions like ‘Have we developed team positions properly?’ and ‘Do we have the right network of positions?’ were on her mind.

“I’ve never been trained to be a manager,” Smarr, whose background is in communications, said. “Who gets trained to be a manager?”

Fortunately, Smarr received an email from the University of Missouri System reminding her of the University of Missouri's Employee Assistance Program (EAP). A flip switched in her head that the university provides resources to help managers deal with these types of issues. Immediately, Smarr called the EAP office and set up a managerial consultation with Dr. James Hunter, EAP director.

“I think that there are a lot of people in management like me who have been promoted into managerial positions who don’t know if they’re doing a good job or if they have to tools to be an effective manager,” Smarr said. “I really appreciate that this kind of service is available.”

The EAP is an occupational health program offered as part of the university’s employee benefits. It provides three types of service: clinical or counseling services to all faculty, staff, and their immediate family, occupational and individual stress management training programs and organizational consultation. The EAP helps individuals deal with job and life related stressors so they can be healthy, productive employees. All EAP services are offered at no cost to employees.

“Employees experience a variety of stressors at work and in their personal lives that influence productivity and well-being,” Hunter said. “We therefore offer a range of individual, team and organizational interventions designed to enhance stress management.”

EAP services are provided at no-cost to employees. Employee service utilization has increased each of the last eight years. EAP annual reports are located at http://www.umsystem.edu/totalrewards/benefits/eap and illustrate program growth.

For Smarr’s team, Hunter completed a work analysis project. The work analysis procedure examined twelve dimensions of work that potentially generate stress, tension or conflict for teams. The final report identified key work-context intervention areas for employee, team and managerial response. Each employee participated in the generation of data used to produce recommendations in the final report.

“James’ summary gave me action items that the team and I could work on,” Smarr said. “They were things that we could affect change on right away to make it a better workplace for everybody. It felt so empowering.”

Because CAFNR Communications has grown rapidly in the past five years and works in the fast-paced, dynamic world of communications, taking time to assess workplace structure was especially important for her office, Smarr said.

Michelle Hall, the marketing communication coordinator at CAFNR, said it would be difficult for the team to find time to discuss these issues on their own.

“It’s definitely great to stop and think about these kinds of thing because you’re not given a chance to think about them in normal day-to-day life,” Hall said.  “We have so much going on. It’s good to set aside that time to think about how we can best make use of the resources in this office and how we can make it all fit together.”

Hunter cites many reasons, backed by data, for the importance of offering full EAP services to university employees. Not only do employees who take advantage of these services derive greater satisfaction in their personal and work lives, but studies overwhelmingly show that return on investment for institutions financing EAP services is quite high, as much as $16 saved for every $1 spent. These recouped costs for the university come from better employee health, less absenteeism, fewer health care utilization claims, and reduced employee turnover, amongst other reasons.

“Work and life are stressful.  The more support we can give employees in managing these stressors, the greater satisfaction and success they will experience each domain,” Hunter said.

“We would like to have more employees complete our online EAP Stress Analysis Questionnaire. The questionnaire is a catalyst to analyze and map occupations as markers for stress and identifies variables that explain differences among job categories. The instrument also provides information regarding the psychological, social and sociotechnical variables that explain occupational differences. Furthermore, the questionnaire helps our EAP identify and manage various stressors of organizational life, including the long and short term effects of stressors. The questionnaire is a central element of a comprehensive, full service EAP,” Hunter commented.

Based on the advantages MU’s EAP services provide to employees, the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved the expansion of full service assistance programs to all four system campuses in April 2013. The vote extended the full service EAP already functioning at MU to the UMSL, UMKC and Missouri S&T campuses and included funding for the new programs.  

“The campuses were very pleased with the board’s decision,” Jill Wood, UM System director of talent management, said. “They have wanted to implement more EAP services, but it was challenging for them to implement from the campus level, both financially and functionally. We wanted to add consistency so that employees, regardless of the campus, had access to full range of EAP services.”

“Each campus within the UM System is unique, reflecting the need for a diverse EAP implementation strategy. EAP Service Models are equally diverse. Therefore, a range of EAP services have been designed for each campus,” Hunter said.

The campuses have now completed the board’s initiative, and all EAP services are operational at each location.

“While each campus customized its EAP implementation to best meet its needs, the strong, underlying current is that it is a support tool and, at the end of the day, is there to help our employees,” Wood said. 

Posted on Apr 14, 2014.

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Kristen Smarr and her team collaborate to implement the results of the EAP work analysis. 

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