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Employee-assistance programs offer range of services to workers

Employee-assistance programs are an important part of employee benefits packages. These programs offer help with a broad range of problems affecting employees’ personal and working lives and are administered in a variety of ways with organizations in Mississippi.

For more than 10 years, BancorpSouth has had a program to provide counseling on anything employees need, including substance abuse, smoking, troubled teenagers, emotional, marital and financial issues. Family members are eligible, too. It is administered through a third-party source.

“Employees can use the program as a go-to for personal problems to at least get an outside opinion,” said W.O. Jones, senior vice president and director of human resources for the large bank system. “They may just want to ask if they really have a problem. A lot of people are hesitant to go see a psychiatrist or talk to a pastor, and they may not have a family member they can confide in.”

He says the program seems to be well received by employees as indicated by surveys. They have a card with a toll-free telephone number to contact the provider. The bank receives periodic reports from the vendor letting them know the number of employees who have utilized the program, but they do not know the names of those employees or the reason for their calls.

“Confidentiality is important,” Jones said. “We don’t know who is being seen. If the reason they’re using the program does not affect their work, we don’t need to know about it.”
There are times the bank knows which of its employees are being treated. One such time is following bank robberies. “We send in a team of counselors to work with the employees involved in a robbery,” Jones said. “We also had group sessions on the Coast and in Hattiesburg after Hurricane Katrina, recognizing that peoples’ lives changed.”

He added that the same vendor does a smoking cessation program for the bank. “Most people don’t mind us knowing about that, but it’s different with other abuse,” he said.

The University of Southern Mississippi has a counseling center that provides employees one free visit for an initial consultation, according to Russ Willis, director of human resources. “A trained psychologist will then refer the employee to the appropriate mental healthcare provider in the community depending on the issues that the employee is facing,” he said.

If the mental health service is deemed medically necessary, then the treatment is covered under the state’s health insurance plan, including in-patient stabilization for up to 30 days, mental health day treatment for up to 60 days and out-patient treatment up to 52 visits per calendar year.

“The university also makes the use of the recreational center available to our employees at a reduced rate,” Willis said.

At 4-County Electric Power Association in Columbus, employee assistance is part of the total wellness program. “Many companies are embracing total wellness,” said Connie Otts, human resources and benefits administrator. “The well being of employees includes nutrition, physical, financial and emotional.”

She said the company has a whole gamut of programs. She heads the committee that plans the programs. It took a whole day recently to strategically plan what will be done next year.

“It’s such an important part of our company,” Otts said. “If we don’t have a well and stable workforce, it affects everything. We can do things to help control our health; things such as smoking, weight and exercise. These are things we’re going to target next year with our employee assistance program.”

The committee is also planning to offer the “Dave Ramsey Financial Peace at Work Program” in the coming year.
4-County Electric’s program works with a recovery provider to get employees rehabilitated and has avenues to work through using local hospitals and community counseling to help them. The company’s committee also holds workshops for other employers in the area. Otts serves on a task force for employee assistance programs with the electric cooperatives’ national committee.

“We try to stay on top of things and offer quality benefits to our employees,” she affirmed.

Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg has an employee-assistance program that operates as an internal and external service. Speaking for the hospital, Janie Kamp said, “We help employees and supervisors with personal and job-related issues that may interfere with job performance or the quality of their lives.”

The two referral types are self and by a supervisor. Kamp says self-referral is preferred but at times a supervisor may need to intervene if the employee is having a decline in job performance such as tardy, excessive absences or inappropriate behavior.

“Each type is handled with the utmost confidentiality,” she said. “The EAP is very utilized and easy to access.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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