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EAP counselors seeing cases of increasing complexity

April 15, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Survey shows more workers reporting substance abuse as a result of economic stress

Workers using employee assistance services in today’s frightening economic times are reporting multiple needs of an increasing intensity, with many finding themselves self-medicating stress and others using the EAP as a suicide hotline, reports a leading organizational consultant.

The latest annual report from Harris, Rothenberg International (HRI), LLC, aptly titled The Uncertainty and Change Report: Thriving in Our Challenging Times, portrays an increasing case complexity among today’s workers who seek help and makes few bold predictions about when the situation will ease.

The report is based on observations from HRI work/life specialists and EAP counselors on the front lines of unstable corporate organizations. The report’s employee assistance section states that “more people are calling about substance abuse as they self-medicate to deal with their stress, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, often as a result of the economic downturn.”

The report adds that EAPs are seeing more than one presenting problem in many clients, adding, “Counselors report that employees say that they are working more, and that people are feeling more pessimistic.”

While according to HRI’s own data a variety of other personal and financial issues are more often the topic of an EAP call than addiction is, addiction still ranks in the top five in presenting problems from callers, affecting 5% of these individuals.

On the management side, the workplace environment is causing managers to demand more than consultation from their EAP experts. Managers now want EAPs to express a clear point of view and to offer specific strategies for agency improvement, going beyond a more passive guidance, according to HRI.

HRI doesn’t necessarily predict a smoother ride for the workforce anytime soon. Its report states that the nation’s high unemployment levels will not make it any easier for many companies to find qualified talent, adding that organizations will need to offer competitive benefits if they want a more fully staffed and healthier workplace.