Making a Referral to the Assistance Program

An EAP is a voluntary service designed to be mutually beneficial to both the employer and the employee because it capitalizes upon the unique advantage the employment setting offers for early problem identification and intervention.

The purpose of the Employee Assistance Program is to provide an accessible and confidential setting in which employees and their families can freely discuss personal, work and family problems, and receive help in finding the best resources to meet their needs.  The major goals of this program are to provide employees with resources to resolve physical, mental health, substance abuse and other issues that may interfere with job performance and to restore valued employees to an acceptable level of productivity. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the program.

support your employees

Additionally, the EAP is available to all managerial level supervisors to discuss employees whose job performance has fallen below standards and to request assistance for employees before they become unemployable. The primary goals of this program are to promote better employee morale, to recover production time, and most importantly, retain valuable, skilled employees.

When to refer an employee to the assistance program

  • Types of referrals
  • Steps to take when making a formal referral

Referring someone to your organisation’s assistance program (commonly referred to as an employee assistance program [EAP] or member assistance program [MAP]) strengthens your position as a people leader in demonstrating care and support to your employee, associate, or member of your staff. People leaders often refer someone because they are experiencing personal problems, to address workplace behaviours, or as a recommendation included in a performance improvement plan.

When to refer an employee to the assistance program

Here are some examples of when a manager might make a referral:

  • When the person exhibits symptoms of stress, often indicated by headaches, stomach-aches, irritability, difficulty concentrating, or memory problems.
  • When someone exhibits signs of depression. You may observe a drop in productivity, increased absences, loss of energy, memory difficulties, unprovoked outbursts of anger, or more mistakes than usual. If an employee expresses thoughts of suicide or exhibits signs of suicidal behaviour, you should immediately address concerns. Contact human resources (HR) or your assistance program immediately for guidance and support on the best approach to address your concern.
  • When someone reports having personal problems. You may also observe such things as a change in work behaviour, including missed deadlines or unusual mistakes; forgetfulness or poor concentration; an increased number of personal calls; moodiness; uncharacteristic behaviour of any kind, including outbursts of anger.
  • When you see signs of a possible substance misuse problem. These may include a decline in quality of work or productivity, returning late from lunch or breaks, accidents at home or at work, problems with colleagues, increased irritability, and taking an excessive number of sick days.
  • When a member of your staff is having performance issues, including exhibiting inappropriate workplace behaviours (e.g., emotional outbursts). Always follow company policies and consult your HR.

Types of referrals

  • Voluntary or self-referrals

Most people seek assistance from the assistance program on their own for help with personal or family issues, work issues, and other concerns. This is called a voluntary referral, or self-referral. The program may be contacted at any time. You can provide staff with the program’s phone number or website, and remind them that it’s a free and confidential service available 24/7.

  • Informal management referrals

People leaders will sometimes informally refer someone to the program. For example, a member of your team with a good performance record may be experiencing problems outside of work. They may be caring for a sick relative or going through a separation or divorce. An informal referral is where a manager will ask for an employee’s consent to share their name and contact number with the assistance program, and the employee would receive a call directly. The manager can simply call the assistance program helpline and provide the contact details and verbal consent from the employee. An informal referral may also be used in cases involving work performance issues.

In such a situation, a people leader might say, “I can tell this has been a stressful time for you. I’d like to call the assistance program and pass on your details so that someone can call you and offer support.” and then explain what the program offers. In these cases, the organisation is not requesting confirmation of attendance within the program and no release of information is required.

  • Formal management referrals to address workplace performance

formal management referral may be used in cases where someone’s job is in jeopardy because of an attendance, behaviour, or performance issue at work.

To help ensure and document that the staff member has been connected with appropriate resources, including individual counselling when appropriate, it is important for management to first contact the assistance program to confer with a consultant who specialises in workplace issues. The management consultant will help clarify available assistance options, answer questions about the formal referral process, forward any necessary paperwork, and open a case for the staff member. In these cases, the employer or organisation is requiring confirmation of participation within the program and a release of information is required. Only information that is necessary is shared with the organisation and typically includes dates of contact with the assistance program. Personal or confidential information is not shared.

Typically, an HR representative calls the program to set up a formal management referral.

Steps to take when making a formal referral

  1. Contact your HR representative to learn about your organisation’s policies and procedures. This is especially important if you are handling a difficult workplace issue.
  2. When management has decided it is appropriate to go forward with a formal referral, call the assistance program and speak to a management consultant. They will obtain relevant information, open a case, and provide specific instructions to ensure the staff member is appropriately assisted once management (typically HR) has met with them concerning this course of action.

What to say when making a formal referral to the assistance program

The program’s management consultant will walk you through the steps of what to say and do when making a formal referral due to work performance issues. You will want to schedule a time to meet with the staff member in a private place. The outline of your conversation might go something like this:

  • Express concern to your staff member about continued productivity issues. You could say, “I’m concerned about your performance. You missed two important deadlines this month. If your performance does not show improvement, you are in danger of losing your job. It is expected that there will be immediate and permanent improvement.”
  • Explain to your staff member that the assistance program is available to assist with work-related issues. You could say, “The assistance program can assist you with these issues. You are being formally referred to the program, and your participation and follow-through is important for your success within the organisation.”

Stress is rising in the workplace, and employees aren’t always reaching out for help. A variety of stressors are creating challenges, such as co-worker conflicts, large workloads, worry about job security – and personal problems. Businesses can work to manage factors such as work-life balance and worries about job security, but they don’t always know what is happening in an employee’s personal life and how that is affecting job performance.

Personal lives are reported to account for 20 percent of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress. Worries about job security motivate employees to keep these issues to themselves, because they worry about potential job loss. The effects of personal issues, however, do carry over into the workplace, and potential problems include decreased performance, more days missed from work and poor customer service.

Employee assistance programs are designed to help employees manage these challenges. Estimates show that 77 percent of employers offer these types of programs to their employees.

An EAP is a great resource for staff and managers a like to get help, but it is important your EAP and its counsellors understand the different cultures and ways of people from different parts of the world. For example, a city like Dubai in the UAE is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, which can present an extra challenge. Fortunately, HanseMerkur expatriate health insurance plans come with Lifeworks EAP, the world leader in this area and experts in different nationalities, culture and languages so there is always help at hand to ensure your office remains a friendly, professional and productive environment.

This article on “Making a Referral to the Assistance Program” was taken from the Lifeworks Employee Assistance Program (EAP) library of resources available to all insured members with HanseMerkur health insurance plans. Please check it out to find other interesting and useful articles, pod casts and tips to help with your well-being or ask your local sales agent for more information about it.