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Employee Assistance Program Guide


Help employees feel supported, both physically and mentally.

Table of Contents

How an EAP works
Why an EAP is so essential
Why employees might avoid your EAP
Help employees make the most of an EAP
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a fixture of almost every employer-provided healthcare program. This valuable benefit promises a lifeline for employees in need of mental and emotional help, financial and legal assistance, grief counseling, and other solutions to life’s most stressful circumstances. Given the state of our world, health, and economy, you could argue this benefit is essential.

Studies show that EAP services are a great way to increase employee productivity, happiness, and wellness. For companies, they deliver a $6.47 return on investment for every $1 spent. This is likely why 79% of organizations offered an EAP 2019. When they’re implemented well, EAP’s have the potential to get ahead of problems that cause absenteeism, presenteeism, drops in limited productivity, and worse.

  • Companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs 95% 95%
  • Companies with 1,001 to 5,000 employees have EAPs 80% 80%
  • Companies with 251 to 1,000 employees have EAPs. 75% 75%
Instead, EAP’s are often forgotten, buried in a benefits booklet, and under-used by employees. In this guide, we’ll share our best tips for helping employees navigate life with the help of your EAP.

How an EAP works

An EAP generally refers employees to resources they need to cope with life’s most stressful circumstances.

The Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines an EAP as “a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems.”

Typically, an EAP will connect employees with counselors, social workers, support groups, lawyers, or other resources to meet their needs. Say an employee is going through a divorce. This sort of personal crisis is almost sure to bleed over into the workplace. With the help of an EAP, the employee can connect with legal services, explore financial assistance, and access counseling to support their transition.

One main feature of most EAP programs is short-term counseling. Short-term counseling addresses problems like depression, anxiety, grief, stress, relationship issues, and substance abuse. Mental stress from legal issues, a job transition or financial concerns can also lessen with short-term therapy (see Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work? for more)

The assistance isn’t limited to 1-on-1 or group counseling, however. Services that help employees maintain their work-life balance are core to EAP’s, including help with finances, legal, elder care, estate planning, debt counseling, retirement assistance, and much more. The goal is to address personal and professional struggles before they have lasting impacts in the workplace or at home( see How to Highlight Overlooked EAP Services and The Most Utilized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is Here).

healthjoy resources

Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work? »

How to Highlight Overlooked EAP Services »

The Most Utilized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is Here »

Schedule a HealthJoy QuickLaunch demo today to see how HealthJoy is building a better employee benefits experience.

Why an EAP benefit is so essential

Employee assistance programs are, in short, a critical part of your employee benefits package. This is especially true as we learn more about the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace (see Why Your Company Needs to Address Mental Health for more). Here are a few more powerful arguments for adding and promoting a company EAP.

Increases employee productivity

Employees with conditions like depression or anxiety aren’t only struggling mentally – they feel it on an emotional and physical level as well. As a result, the World Health Organization estimates that depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. Whether it’s by offering counseling services, or providing access to meditation apps, giving employees resources to take care of themselves can help them reset and produce better work.

Saves company healthcare costs

Mental health issues are expensive. A study looking at the financial impact of employee health problems found that depression was the most pricy condition, followed by obesity, arthritis, back or neck pain, and anxiety. Research has found that for every $1 put into treatment for common mental disorders; there’s a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Proper mental health management also has the potential to reduce the number of doctor’s visits or prescription medications needed in the future.

Boosts morale

Mental and emotional challenges are isolating. Whether it’s financial hardship or legal troubles, the support from an EAP could change employee lives for the better. An EAP shows employees that you’re invested in their wellbeing, which will lead to a noticeable boost in morale, company loyalty, and overall happiness.

Lowers absenteeism

Depression is the leading cause of absenteeism in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees. But it’s not just the financial impact that’s harmful. Absenteeism can create a vicious cycle: the more days of work an employee misses, the more overwhelmed they feel. The cycle continues until employees have tools to address issues proactively.

$1 Trillion
Estimated productivity cost of depression and anxiety
ROI for every dollar invested in treatment for common mental disorders
Yearly costs of absenteeism caused by depression among hourly workers

Reduces turnover

If you’re one of the few companies that doesn’t invest in employee wellbeing, your employees and job candidates will notice. On the flip side, being one of the companies that offer impactful mental health benefits will improve your recruiting efforts. It will also keep your existing employees happy and more likely to stay at the organization.

Decreases number of accidents in manual positions

Mental health affects every industry. It’s reported that one in five construction workers struggle with mental health issues. A manual worker who is depressed, losing sleep, or abusing substances is much more likely to get hurt on the job than someone who is mentally well. Finding ways for these workers to access the care they need can decrease accident rates and improve their overall wellbeing.

Helps employees cope with grief and loss

Most of us will experience a loss at some point in our working lives. When your employees are grieving and have difficulty reacclimating to the work environment, pointing them to counseling can be incredibly helpful. See Dealing With Death in the Workplace

Addresses the rising problem of employee burnout

Last year, the WHO declared burnout as an official “occupational phenomenon.” Employees experiencing this phenomenon could be distracted and less productive, easily frustrated, avoiding social interactions like their normal lunchtime chat, or taking more sick days than before. See Is Employee Burnout Taking a Hidden Toll on Your Workplace?

Offers a compassionate way to deal with substance abuse

Nearly 21 million Americans, or 6.5% of us, have at least one addiction. Of those, only about 10% will receive treatment. Substance abuse shows up at work in loss of productivity, absenteeism, increased sick leave, and distraction. More importantly, you’ll see the human toll that substance abuse exacts on your employees, their family, and your coworkers. An EAP offers a compassionate first step toward coping. See The First Step in Handling Employee Substance Abuse for more.

Provides resources beyond mental health

An EAP is one of the strongest ways you can holistically support employees. By connecting them with resources for financial support, legal assistance, and more, an EAP creates a clear path to help and gives them the tools they need to move through hardship.

If you want healthier, happier employees, you must include behavioral health benefits like an EAP program in your benefits. Otherwise, you miss the opportunity to improve your employees’ lives – which you’ll ultimately notice in your bottom line (see Health Insurance Plan Design Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020 for more)

Once you add an EAP, though, the work isn’t done.

healthjoy resources

Why Your Company Needs to Address Mental Health »

Dealing With Death in the Workplace »

Is Employee Burnout Taking a Hidden Toll on Your Workplace? »

The First Step in Handling Employee Substance Abuse »

Health Insurance Plan Design Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020 »

Why employees don’t use your EAP

Despite how impactful an EAP benefit promises to be, no one seems to want to use them. In fact, like telemedicine, utilization might be this benefit’s biggest struggle. One survey found that usage of EAP programs remains at only 7%. We see that employees struggle first to remember their EAP benefits, then to understand them, and finally to get past stigma and fear to use them.

Let’s examine a few more reasons why your employees may not be taking advantage of their EAP benefit (read all the details in our post Why Employees Don’t Use Your EAP Program)

Lack of Awareness

This means that, even if an employer offers an EAP program, most employees aren’t aware of its existence. It may be that HR isn’t doing enough to make this benefit visible. The problem could even be that company leaders themselves aren’t aware of the benefit and therefore can’t recommend it to employees.

Lack of program education

Employees who aren’t familiar with EAPs are unlikely to use the service. Many employees may also carry the perception that EAPs are only for people with mental health issues or drug problems. Today’s EAP service offering is much more diverse. Employees must understand that counseling offered through an EAP can assist them through any life transition, difficulty, or emotional struggle. Resources like legal and financial support are also available through EAP.

Fear of stigma

Even when they know they exist, employees don’t make use of EAPs because they’re worried about the associated stigmas. Perhaps they’re ashamed to address an alcohol abuse or problem or talk about their divorce. Mental health issues carry plenty of societal stigma, and this can make employees reluctant to reach out for help. Men, in particular, are prone to this, which is likely why 60 percent of employees who use EAP services are female.

Confidentiality Concerns

Since EAP is an employee benefit, employees may have the misconception that their counseling sessions or details of their family struggles, for instance, will be shared with their employers. In fact, EAP services are strictly confidential. The only exception is if employees indicate wanting to harm themselves or others.

Misunderstanding of Cost

Unfortunately, since they’re associated with other healthcare services, employees may assume they have to pay a copay or deductible. An EAP counseling service is free to employees and is completely covered by the employer.

Hesitation Around Asking for Permission

Another misconception about EAPs is that employees have to ask their HR department for permission to use the service. That can be tricky when employees value personal privacy. In fact, most of the time, accessing an EAP is as simple as making a phone call to an EAP provider and scheduling an appointment with the appropriate service provider.

Lack of Centralized Benefits

Finally, it’s important to centralize all your benefits by designing a seamless benefits experience. Employees aren’t going to go out of their way to find and use a service. When they’re located in a benefits booklet that’s buried in a drawer, there’s almost no chance employees will remember to reach out for help.

An EAP program can be a truly wonderful tool for employees. Getting employees to use yours could simply be a matter of examining why utilization of this benefit is so low, then investing in a few starting steps. Helping employees make the most of an EAP benefit is critical to your success, because it’s the step that will lead to higher performance and productivity for your organization. Let’s dig into how you can make an EAP benefit work better and drive EAP utilization.

healthjoy resources

Why Employees Don’t Use Your EAP Program »

Why Employees Need A Seamless Benefits Experience »

Help employees make the most of an EAP

Like most employee benefits, an EAP has the potential to improve the lives of workers. Plus, it’s a powerful cost-containment measure. By getting ahead of problems that cause absenteeism, presenteeism, and low productivity, EAP’s positively affect your company’s bottom line. However, like most employee benefits, EAP’s are only helpful if employees actually use them. To help an EAP reach its potential, you’ll need to dedicate time to education, promotion, and year-round communication.

Invest in education before launching an EAP Program.

Host webinars or “lunch and learns” to give employees a heads up about the new program. This way everyone can get a sense of the service offering, and whether or not it’s of interest to them.

Ask EAP program providers to come into the office and present.

Make the presentation relevant. For instance, discussing services for mental health management, loss of a family member, or legal troubles makes it relevant to everyone and illustrates that EAP isn’t just for mental illness.

Create physical and digital FAQs.

Employees may feel uncomfortable asking HR questions about EAPs, so proactively providing materials with answers to frequently asked questions can help. This can be a resource they turn to before and after the EAP is launched.

Include EAPs as part of your open enrollment communications.

Don’t just lump the program in with your wellness benefits in your open enrollment materials. Instead, explicitly state that your company has an EAP. Then explain what services are offered. See How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment for more.

Make EAP part of your year-round benefits communications.

It’s not enough to promote this benefit only during OE. Employees need to know it exists when they need it, and that familiarity only comes from repetition. See How HealthJoy Gets in Front of Healthcare Decisions for more.

Offer a training session for all managers.

Most managers are in the same boat as other employees: they don’t know that EAP’s exist. However, if you create opportunities for these company leaders to get familiar with this benefit, they can serve as internal advocates for the program. This can play a big role in raising overall awareness among employees.

Create a culture of openness.

When employees fear stigma in the workplace, it’s because they’re nervous about how they’re going to be perceived. Creating a culture of open-mindedness will help employees feel comfortable being themselves. You can do this by openly discussing tough topics like mental health and finances. While a culture change won’t happen overnight, it’s a powerful goal.

Have company leaders share their personal experiences.

One way to create a culture of openness is by encouraging vulnerability – especially among company leaders. Encouraging the leadership team to share their battles with mental health or work/life balance will help to  break down barriers. 

Make sure employees understand that there are privacy laws in place.

Many people aren’t aware that there are actual laws that protect their confidentiality. It’s not just a verbal promise. Let them know that, legally, there aren’t any reports that come back to the company. There’s also no external record of their use of the EAP program. Include this in all materials and communication.

Build trust with your employees.

Focus on building a trusting relationship with your team. If your employees believe that leadership has their best interests in mind, that trust will extend to other realms. See Building Trust in Your 2020 Benefits

Separate EAP services from other healthcare benefits.

Otherwise, employees may assume that the EAP falls under their health insurance. By keeping EAP separate, you make it clear that there are no associated costs with this program.

Highlight the free services.

EAP counselors are equipped to deal with categories of problems that many health plans won’t cover. This is a huge benefit for people who are interested in counseling services but are deterred by the cost. Emphasize that EAPs are a great and convenient alternative to seeking expensive providers outside the program. 

Make instructions clear.

Whenever you talk about EAP, highlight the fact that employees can access these services any time they choose. No manager or HR permissions required.

Provide easy access.

If your employee knows exactly how to access EAP services, they’re less likely to feel the need to ask for permission. On the flip side, if it’s difficult to access an EAP program, employees may feel like they have to ask HR for help.

Pick the right vendor.

Choosing the right partner is critical to centralizing your benefits. Select a vendor that can easily integrate with your existing portals. Also look for a user-friendly interface that won’t be difficult for your HR team to manage. And make sure to ask the vendor how they’ll support you through open enrollment and beyond. See What are HealthJoy’s JOY Campaign Journeys? And How Our Benefits Wallet Engages Employees for more.

healthjoy resources

How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment »

How HealthJoy Gets in Front of Healthcare Decisions »

Building Trust in Your 2020 Benefits »

What are HealthJoy’s JOY Campaign Journeys? »

How Our Benefits Wallet Engages Employees  »

An EAP benefit isn’t optional anymore

Over three-quarters of employers offered an EAP last year for a reason. The EAP benefit offers essential support that helps employees navigate life’s most difficult moments. That means healthier, happier employees and more successful cost-containment efforts (See HealthJoy Accelerates Your Cost-Containment Strategy for more). The bottom line: finding and implementing a highly-utilized EAP should be a priority for every company.

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With HealthJoy’s personalized guidance and AI tech, improving your benefits experience has never been easier. See the future of benefits and schedule a demo today

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