LinkedIn  Twitter  YouTube  Facebook

Economic Uncertainty Has Profound Impact on Workplace

EAP and work/life resources gain importance and traction in corporations, HRI study says

A new report released today from Harris, Rothenberg International, LLC (HRI), a leading employer/employee resource firm, reveals that more than ever, people are relying on employer/employee-assistance programs (EAP) and work/life resources to help them address stresses brought on by the economy. The "Uncertainty and Change Report: Thriving in Our Challenging Times" outlines changes in the workplace and indicates that more than ever before, financial topics are at the forefront of employee and employer concerns.

A yearly report issued by HRI, this year's trends report differs from those of the past in one critical area: a focus on the economy and personal finance. To obtain information for the report, HRI conducted an intensive review of inbound EAP and work/life queries via statistical analysis, implemented client and counselor surveys, and held in-depth personal interviews with their in-house EAP counselors. Based on the results of this research, The Uncertainty and Change Report: Thriving in Our Challenging Times concludes that the common thread linking nearly all programs and queries is the economy and its effect on finances. Specific findings include:

• Calls to EAPs in the past year have increased in intensity and need. In 2008, HRI witnessed a nearly 10 percent increase in the number of calls coming into EAP counselors.

• HRI experienced a 13 percent increase in the number of calls for financial services in the past year. This growth does not account for the vast number of calls that relate to finances, but only those that are focused specifically on identifying financial services.

• Work/life calls also have been increasingly focused on general financial assistance, including information about and referrals for mortgage assistance, rent subsidies, child care/adult care subsidies, prescription assistance programs and others.

• Statistics show that there have been increases in 401(k) hardship withdrawals in 2008.

• EAP counselors report that employees say they are working more and that people are more pessimistic. Young people just out of school are having difficulty finding jobs.

• People who have lost their jobs or fear losing their jobs are calling for information about and referrals for career consulting, resume preparation, low-cost health insurance and other related needs.

• Companies are cutting expenses and want employees to copay for benefits like backup care, which have not historically required out-of-pocket payment from employees.

"The majority of EAP calls in the past year, while spanning a number of topics, end up touching on the financial in one way or another," says Beatrice Harris, Ph.D., psychologist and managing director of HRI. "If a call comes in about a relationship issue, chances are finances enter the conversation. When a caller talks about anxiety, he or she ultimately talks about job security issues or financial constraints as a contributing factor. Financial stress is the dominant subject for the EAP and work/life calls our counselors are receiving."

In 2008, HRI EAP calls fell into five major categories with 62 percent of calls on personal issues, 20 percent on legal/financial topics, 11 percent introducing job-related concerns, 5 percent focusing on addiction, and 2 percent on dependent care. Within the personal issues category, the top five areas addressed included marital/relationship concerns, family issues, overall stress, depression and anxiety. The top five job-related concerns were poor concentration, career issues, workplace dissatisfaction, conflict with manager or supervisor and declining performance.

As employees use EAP and work/life services to address personal situations often brought on by financial stresses, managers are looking to EAP services to provide enhanced support for office situations created by similar financial constraints. Specifically, managers are looking for assistance with employees as organizations are being downsized and are requesting seminars on financial education, as well as tips and programs on stress and resilience. In fact, EAP counselors reported that in 2008, managers were very concerned about the effects of economic uncertainty on productivity and morale. The HRI report indicates that overall, many companies have smaller staffs now and therefore need more productivity from their employees, but many employees are being less productive as they worry about the future.