A proactive approach is foundational to a successful workplace violence mitigation program. One such strategy is a comprehensive employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP is a confidential service provided to employees to assist them with personal issues. Often, these personal issues can affect job performance and even lead to instances of verbal abuse or violence at work, whether that person is the perpetrator or the victim.
Benefits of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
More employers are offering EAPs, signaling a growing understanding that workers have personal struggles and that those struggles can spill into the workplace.
EAPs have many beneficial applications for both employees and employers, but they can be particularly helpful in high-risk situations.
For example, a victim of domestic violence may seek help through an EAP, thereby decreasing the probability of a violent outbreak at the organization by the hand of the abuser.
An EAP also has a place in assisting Human Resources staff when counseling, as they can refer troubled employees to the program. Company leadership can also use an EAP as a resource to offer at-risk employees. Even an employee can refer to an EAP when concerned about a troubled co-worker.
Among other things, an EAP assists employees who may be struggling with feelings of isolation or depression. This, in turn, helps minimize the risk of those troubles escalating to an episode of workplace violence.
EAPs can also be seen to serve a similar purpose as school programs specifically targeted to support, encourage, and provide resources to at-risk students.
A support program for an at-risk student provides resources to increase their psychological functioning and achievement – both while at school and at home. Such a plan also aims to help a student increase test scores, academic performance, and improve their psychological functioning.
A company’s EAP program meets similar needs for those in the workforce. It serves to increase job performance and overall functioning at work. Company leaders encouraging the use of EAPs understand that employees are not robots may have plenty of non-work-related issues that cannot always be “turned off” and “tuned out” during work hours.
Workplace Violence Triggers and How an EAP Helps
An EAP’s primary function is to serve as a resource for individuals suffering from a range of personal problems. Such problems, when left unattended, can escalate into acts of workplace violence.
According to a report by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), all of the analyzed active shooters in 2017 suffered from at least one severe stressor in the five years before the attack.
More than half of those attackers suffered some type of financial difficulty such as job loss, loss of a home or business, moving to a shelter, wage garnishing, or eviction.
It is at such points in an employee’s life that an EAP can provide a glimmer of hope and support. Because an EAP comes into play when the life stressor arises, it can help diffuse an escalation that can lead to instances of violence. This can be true for both perpetrators and for victims.
Employers should note that job loss is a marked stressor in the study, indicating that proper termination procedures carried out with compassion and respect are also key to minimizing workplace violence.
Encourage Employees to Use an EAP
The effects EAPs have on the reduction of workplace violence can’t be overstated. It is one of the most proactive measures an organization can take to ensure the health of its employees and workplace safety.
The decision to put an EAP in place is a good starting point, but to be effective, an EAP must be accessible and highly promoted. Current participation rates for many EAPs are only 3-5%, according to one account.
When questioned, employees report that they don’t know about it, that they fear there will be a stigma attached when using the program, or that they have concerns about confidentiality. These are the barriers company leadership must address to make their EAP an effective mitigation tool against workplace violence.
Employee barriers to entry aside, an EAP remains a cost-effective mitigation strategy for employers. According to a report by the Employee Assistance Society of North America and the Kaiser Foundation, an EAP makes up less than 0.5% of the average employers’ annual health insurance costs per employee.
If the EAP serves to spot trigger events and offers employee support that results in the avoidance of even one incident of workplace violence, it is more than worth its cost.
A Problem that Must Be Addressed on All Fronts
Workplace violence is a complex problem that must be addressed with complete commitment from an entire organization. High-level executives, as well as operational staff, must be wholly devoted to stopping workplace violence before it begins.
Preventing workplace violence is only part of the commitment, every organization must also have an appropriate response plan in place for times when workplace violence does occur. To this end, McGowan offers Active Shooter/Workplace Violence Insurance programs to allow organizations to prepare for and respond to a wide range of risks in the workplace.