DO YOU HAVE AN OFFICE FULL OF THIRTY-SOMETHING MALE frontline managers? If you think you’re saving bundles on maternity leave costs, think again. You likely have some heavy-duty users of Employee Assistance Plans(EAPs), as well as potential productivity costs to total up.

That’s because men in this age bracket are the most likely to experience relationship issues that could negatively impact their productivity and attendance, according to a recent survey by Warren Shepell. And breaking with the long-held stereotype of male self-sufficiency, more men than women in this age bracket seek help for relationship problems from EAP providers.

The study, which surveyed 150,000 employees in 1,098 Canadian companies between 2002 and 2005, finds that staff in their thirties were most likely to use EAP services for relationship issues. In fact, 22% of men compared to 17% of women used the service for this type of counseling.

“Our experience when you look at gender breakdowns is quite often men have fewer other places to seek support—not just around relationships but around other issues,” says Rod Phillips, president and CEO of Warren Shepell in Toronto. “We also find that men frequently reach for support later into a problem.”

Frontline managers are also above-average users of EAP services. The survey finds that 39% of male supervisors and managers under 40 years of age access EAPs for relationship issues compared to 24% of regular employees. Conversely, 31% of female supervisors and managers use EAPs for relationship counseling versus 24% of regular staff members.

Phillips feels the current downsizing trend in workplaces is to blame. “This is the group—frontline managers and supervisors—under the most pressure in their organizations today. The fact they would need the support isn’t a big surprise.”

As for industries with the highest users of EAP services for relationship issues, associations, automotive, entertainment, unions and construction are at the top of the list. Employees in communications, media, advertising and the Internet have betterthan- average(lower)rates.

While the good news is that employees are turning to EAPs for help with their relationships, the less positive news for employers is that not everyone facing these types of issues is seeking help. Staff who bring relationship problems to work often engage in presenteeism, the state of being at work but not working at full potential, and have increased rates of absenteeism. And it’s in these cases where employers need to—and should—take action.

Suzanne MacDougal, an occupation health consultant in Toronto, is a big believer in tracking absenteeism. Though she admits psychological conditions present a challenge, she advocates absenteeism management to sponsors with absentee staff. “If an employee misses work, the manager should meet to discuss performance. What the manager is doing is putting the responsibility back to the employee and saying: ‘What are you going to do about your attendance?’ And maybe it does open up a dialogue.”

Philips says an effective way to manage relationship- related absences is to analyze the composition of the workplace and to augment EAP services that target that predominant demographic. He suggests that if you’ve got more baby boomers than younger employees, introduce programs like health checks. “We encourage organizations to take a look at things like their EAP data, take a look at things like their absentee data. Help support these employees with those [EAP] programs. Then it becomes a matter of letting people, and particularly people who are affected, know what’s available to them.”

The bottom line: employees who are experiencing relationship difficulties still need to be accountable for their actions, says Phillips. “People who aren’t focused on work, who are focused on other issues than work, are not doing the job the company pays them to do.”

Anna Sharratt is managing editor of BENEFITS CANADA.