Employee Assistance Program takes a “proactive” approach to worker mental health care | AspenTimes.com

Employee Assistance Program takes a “proactive” approach to worker mental health care

Local business chambers offer members a discounted rate

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times archives

Kris Mattera knows that life in the Roaring Fork Valley can be stressful.

As the executive director of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, she’s heard as much from members of the organization that represents local businesses. And with the COVID-19 pandemic in play, “people are stretched even thinner on both fronts, both at home and at work,” Mattera said.

“It’s just a lot for people to handle, and we’re just trying to get as many resources out there and available to people, so they can take advantage of them and kind of improve their situation — because this doesn’t appear to be a situation that’s going to go away anytime soon,” Mattera said.

That acknowledgment was the impetus behind the chamber’s decision to offer discounted group rates to members for Triad, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) based out of Grand Junction that offers mental health services and other life tools and resources for workers through their employers.

The Basalt Chamber of Commerce announced the benefit about a year ago but it had been in the works since 2020. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association now offers a similar discount program for its members for Triad; a kickoff webinar took place on Jan. 19. For both chamber programs, monthly rates start at $3.05 for each employee and may get even lower if more members sign up.

“We knew (these services) were critical prior to the pandemic, but even moreso (now) you’re seeing a lot of people discussing employee stress, mental wellness, coping mechanisms — all these different factors that are happening,” Mattera said. “This is just yet another tool in the toolbox, and a low-cost way of providing benefits to employees that they may not otherwise have access to.”

Triad takes a “more proactive” approach — and often a more affordable one — to employees well-being than might otherwise be covered with insurance for mental health care, according to John Gribben, the company’s co-founder and owner-manager.

Counseling services are very much part of the program; the number of free sessions per employee depends on the package that employers sign up for. But employers can also add on legal and financial consultations, crisis support or workplace trainings for resiliency, communication skills or conflict resolution — the idea being that if employees can address some of the external stressors in their lives, it might help with their internal mental health too, Gribben said.

That “whole body” mentality could go a long way for the sustainability and wellbeing of the local workforce, according to Christina King, a Basalt-based therapist who contracts with Triad and some other employee assistance programs.

It also has a “return on investment” that manifests in employees who are more present and more productive, King noted. The proactive approach might also help employees get help for mental health challenges before they require more intensive intervention.​

“When we don’t address mental health in the workplace, or we don’t really care and support our employees to support their needs, or create that mindset, (then) we’re spending more money on them on their insurances, or on whatever care they need for addiction, for anxiety, for depression, for them not showing up to work because of those issues,” King said.

Many of the largest employers in the valley already offer employee assistance programs — think Aspen Skiing Co., school districts, hospitals and municipal governments, according to Gribben.

But participation isn’t as high for smaller businesses and employers with just a handful or a couple dozen staffers, Gribben said. He thinks that might be because “a smaller employer either doesn’t know about and or doesn’t think they can afford an EAP,” Gribben said. That’s where local business chambers come in, on both the promotion and the rate front.

Like King, Gribben and Mattera also identified what Gribben called a “bottom-line benefit” that adds to the more altruistic sales pitch of worker wellness.

“I think having access to these resources, giving people different ways to cope, is really helpful. … The greater the mental well-being of your employees, the more productive they are, the better it is for business,” Mattera said.

“If we all have great mental hygiene, that’s good for the entire valley,” she added.