What is EAP? Employee Assistance Program Definition, Benefits and How It Works

Updated November 16, 2022

Sometimes, employees may face problems in their personal lives that affect their work performance. Implementing an employee assistance program (EAP) in the workplace can help them feel productive, motivated and encouraged.

In this article, we outline what an employee assistance program is, the benefits it provides and how you can implement it in the workplace.

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What is an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)?

An employee assistance program (EAP) is a workplace benefit that provides employee counseling services to help overcome any personal or workplace challenges. The employees who enroll in the program, as well as the topics discussed, are confidential. Employees have the opportunity to work with licensed, professional counselors to talk about challenges that may affect their work performance. 

Issues EAP plans can assist your employees with include: 

  • Problems with substance abuse 

  • Debt or financial issues 

  • Health management 

  • Anxiety or mental health problems

  • Struggles with family or partners

  • Adjusting to a proper work-life balance

If a supervisor fears their employee’s job performance is declining, they will often recommend the employee use the EAP plan’s resources. If an employee partakes in the plan, the information will remain anonymous and won’t be shared with supervisors unless the employee allows it. Most EAP plans allow both employees and their family members to use the services offered.

Benefits of an employee assistance program

Below are the main benefits of implementing an employee assistance program in the workplace:

Helps employees feel safe, comfortable and protected

If an employee feels uncomfortable regarding a workplace or personal issue, an active employee assistance program can help them feel safe as they discuss their issues. By anonymously talking to a certified counselor about the challenges they’re facing, they can feel more secure in the workplace. Confidentiality also assures employees they’re being listened to without others in the office learning about the problems they’re facing. 

An employee assistance program shows your employees you’re dedicated to their safety by providing counseling resources that can make them feel well-adjusted and healthy.

Employee turnover rate will decrease 

If an employee feels valued and understands their employer is actively working to help overcome challenges, their commitment to the company may increase. Most employees feel enthusiastic about staying at a company that shows employees they’re valued and cared about. This can lead to employees remaining engaged and motivated to stay at a company long term, initially reducing turnover rate. 

The cost to implement an employee assistance program is approximately $10 to $50 a month, depending on the plan you choose. Providing this assistance to employees can be significantly less expensive than the cost to hire and onboard new employees.

Productivity and overall employee performance may increase

If an employee’s problems are being considered and resolved by a licensed counselor, they may feel more comfortable at work. If this happens, their mood may increase, along with their productivity. An employee who is feeling happier and less worrisome will feel more motivated to work, which can lead to better work performance.

This can also increase their engagement within the company, leading to a stronger company culture

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How to implement an employee assistance plan

You can follow the steps below to implement an effective employee assistance plan in your workplace:

  1. Determine the goals of your company and employees.

  2. Learn what EAP plans are available to your company.

  3. Research available EAP plans.

  4. Inform your employees of the plan you chose and its guidelines.

1. Determine the goals of your company and employees

Before creating a full employee assistance plan, decide the overall goals your company holds regarding providing this service to your employees. You can create a list of what your employees may need to improve their performance. It may be beneficial to encourage employee feedback and ask them what resources they may need to be more successful or productive.

To make this more comfortable for employees, you can suggest the HR team conduct an anonymous survey to determine the needs of each employee. The survey can also request employee preferences regarding what counseling services they could benefit from. Take these suggestions and factor them into your list of goals. 

Related: 12 Human Resources Jobs that Pay Well

2. Learn what EAP plans are available to your company

Before you research the best programs for your employees, learn which EAP plans your company qualifies for. Talk with your company’s health care provider to learn what EAP plans they can provide you and your team members. 

3. Research available EAP plans

Once you’ve determined the goals of your employee assistance program and know what the company qualifies for, you can begin researching different plans. As you do this, note the demographics of your employees and the services they may have requested. 

Here are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing the services within various EAP plans: 

  • Marital and family counseling: If many of your employees are married or have children, you can provide them with an EAP plan that includes marital and family support.

  • Work-life balance assistance: There may be employees who are committed to working long hours. If you notice many employees with this habit, you can look for EAP plans that help them remain healthy while balancing their work and personal life. 

  • Amount of free sessions available: Certain EAP plans will offer a set amount of free sessions for employees. Once they have used all of the free sessions, employees will pay out of pocket for any continuing sessions or resources. If you believe your employees may request many sessions, you can look for a plan that offers a larger amount of free services.

  • The type of sessions or counseling each plan offers: Employees may prefer to receive counseling in a variety of different ways. Some wish to receive counseling individually, while others would prefer to be counseled during a group session. You can pick a plan and session type that best suits your employees’ counseling needs. 

  • The communication method of each program: Some plans may offer counseling services over the phone, via email or in person. The opinion of how your employees would like to receive these services can vary. 

4. Inform your employees of the plan you chose and its guidelines

Once you select a plan, hold a meeting with employees to educate them on the plan you’ve selected. Your employees may feel more motivated and encouraged to participate in this program if they know what it offers. Inform them of the benefits they will receive from participating in the program as well as reassure them that this help is available when needed. 

Try to remind them of your availability if they need assistance with these programs. You can educate yourself and/or your human resources department on the program before implementing it.

By building encouragement and awareness of these programs, your employees will feel empowered to partake in the resources you’re providing. They will also feel that their employers genuinely care about their well-being and mental health.

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