Helping employees stay at work

Employer family assistance programs can help combat rise of disability claims
By Christopher Carson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/27/2017

With many Canadians experiencing mental health or addiction-related illnesses, and many unable to work as a result, employers are faced with the challenge of costly disability claims.

But integrating an employer family assistance program (EFAP) with workplace-based collaborative mental health care can successfully help workers return to work 16 days sooner than usual care over a 12-month period, and reduce the proportion of workers transitioning to long-term disability over the same period by over three-quarters, according to a 2017 study by K. Cullen et al in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation.

Keeping people at work

EFAPs can be a key support system to help employees improve their productivity, while maintaining and, in some instances, strengthening their mental health. They can be a proactive instrument coupled with other benefits such as extended health care, pharmacy, dental and practitioner coverage to sustain a happy and healthy workforce. 

In providing adequate support for mental health issues, employers are seeing reduced absenteeism, lower occurrences of workplace accidents, and lower long-term disability costs with reduced durations, according to the same study. EFAPs help to build trust and co-operation in the workplace, assisting with communications while solidifying relationships between employer and employee, and managers and union representatives.

With the support of an EFAP, managers can alleviate some of the challenges employees face, while being able to focus on the company’s strategic priorities. EFAPs provide a range of solutions and support, from proactive coaching to assistance and short-term counselling, for employees and managers alike.

Disability management and return-to-work services help to support organizations in maintaining and rebuilding employee mental health, with programming specifically designed for individuals who require assistance and those returning to work with sustainable recovery.

These components help organization save in the long run, with fewer claims moving to long-term disability, and more employees successfully integrating back into the workplace.

With an EFAP, short-term disability durations can be reduced, providing major cost savings, as companies benefit from employees returning to work sooner, with fewer challenges, and a reduced risk of relapse.

But an EFAP cannot function independently — leadership and organizational culture have to encourage employees to use their EFAP services without fear of being stigmatized. These confidential services help to address a host of personal and work-related concerns and issues, with the end-goal of reinstating or improving work performance.

Considerations at each level

For employees, this service offers a confidential mechanism with support that’s external to their organization. This makes sense because employees may be uncomfortable addressing some of their personal concerns with their manager.

With an EFAP, employees can receive coaching on how to deal with various life challenges, and learn how to manage and overcome personal and workplace concerns, becoming more resilient and productive employees.

Managers can also help to support EFAP campaigns within the workplace by bringing attention to specific areas of concern such as work-life balance or nutrition and fitness.

This proactive approach can help providers develop workshops and programming around specific workplace needs.

When managers are a part of identifying the needs of their workplace, employees will benefit.

When an EFAP has been implemented, managers and key personnel should know how the program works, what type of benefits are available, and be able to communicate this to their teams.

And the provider should have a management training program or outline of the services available, along with direction and guidelines on how to help managers improve their communication and support for employees.

When considering an EFAP, senior management and HR should look at providers that supply reporting on program utilization and key measurements that have been previously discussed in executive meetings.

These findings can help to develop strategies that align with key objectives and areas of interest supporting return-on-investment measurements for future investment.

Christopher Carson is a product marketing specialist at Homewood Health in Guelph, Ont. He can be reached at or for more information, visit

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