Employees dealing with mental-health or other well-being issues spend more than a third of their time at the office being unproductive, according to new research by Morneau Shepell Ltd. and the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association.

The research found this ineffective time at work adds up to eight days a month of lost productivity. The same employees are also absent from work an average of 7.36 hours per month, or roughly a full work day.

For employees struggling with productivity issues, the top reason is mental health or personal stress (40 per cent), followed by family or marriage relationship issues (29 per cent), work and occupational issues (18 per cent) and alcohol and drug issues (four per cent).

Read: How to optimize wellness programs to reduce absenteeism

The research, which also reviewed the use and effectiveness of employee assistance programs over a three-month period, found EAP counselling restored nearly five days of productive work time per case.

“The results of the research demonstrated that there is a good reason for employers to use an EAP to support distressed employees and enhance overall employee well-being,” said Barb Veder, vice-president and chief clinician at Morneau Shepell. “After use of EAP-provided counselling, problem rates were reduced for every aspect measured in the report where employees need support.”

The research valued the worth of EAP counselling at roughly US$1,731 per case, with the return on investment estimated at roughly $3.37 of value for every $1 invested based on typical annual levels of program use and cost.

Read: Evaluating the value of employee assistance programs

The vast majority of cases were people voluntarily turning to their EAPs for counselling. Eighty per cent were self-referrals, while seven per cent were referrals from family or another source and five per cent of referrals came from supervisors. Only two per cent were mandatory referrals from a human resources department or the employer.

The research also found EAP counselling positively affected five separate outcomes in all cases:

  • Issues with work presenteeism were reduced, from 56 per cent to 28 per cent;
  • Issues around life satisfaction dropped, from 38 per cent to 17 per cent;
  • Problems related to absenteeism decreased, from 34 per cent to 14 per cent;
  • Work engagement issues were reduced, from 31 per cent to 21 per cent; and
  • Problems with workplace distress were lowered, from 22 per cent to 13 per cent.

Read: What you don’t know about your employee assistance program