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Things to Keep in Mind About Employee Assistance Programs

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) provide targeted services to employees facing non-job-related difficulties inside or outside of the workplace. EAPs can provide a wide range of intervention services that help struggling employees resolve issues that affect job performance, which may potentially reduce turnover. As an employer, it is important to understand what EAPs are and how they can benefit you and your employees.

Related:How to Reduce Employee Turnover

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An overview of employee assistance programs (EAPs)

An employee assistance program is a benefit provided by employers to help staff members with mental and emotional health issues. Such programs involve evaluations, counseling services and, at times, referrals to other mental health specialists. For example, if an employee is experiencing high levels of stress, an EAP may include individual counseling sessions that guide them through coping and stress-reduction strategies. The goal is to help workers decrease stress and reach high levels of personal satisfaction.

In most cases, the counseling session and related services are provided by an independent party, which reports the number of sessions or employees served to an employer. Employees using an EAP are kept anonymous, and all sessions are confidential.

Successful EAPs have several features in common:

  • 24-hour access to professional help:EAPs often include 24-hour hotlines for covered employees that provide general assistance, offer direct contact with a mental health professional or make emergency referrals.
  • Short wait times:EAPs respond to emergencies immediately while providing counseling sessions within a few days of contact.
  • Professional care: Most support professionals are licensed or certified, including counselors or psychologists who are able to make referrals to other specialists.
  • Anonymity: In most cases, counseling takes place away from the workplace, often in a professional’s office. In all cases, mental health professionals do not provide identity information to employers. Instead, employers receive usage statistics from EAPs. This may include how many sessions and employees the EAP served, for instance.

Examples of employee assistance programs

Increasing numbers of businesses have turned to EAPs because they are relatively low-cost per employee per year—typically between $12 and $40. Given the low cost, not only is helping employees through personal turmoil an ethical decision, it is often less expensive than finding and retraining replacements. An additional benefit is the potential boost to company morale, creating a more productive workplace.

There are many different kinds of EAPs you can choose to offer your employees, including the following:

  • In-houseEAPs:More common with large employers, in-house EAPs are run and staffed by the employer.
  • Short-term, all-inclusive contracts:In this scenario, an EAP offers a preselected range of services based on the number of employees. Employee use of services does not impact the cost.
  • Service-fee-based contracts:This type of EAP bills only an employer when services are provided to employees.
  • Collaborative EAPs: Groups of employers work together to negotiate a contract for all of their employees. This often reduces the cost for employers.
  • Mentorship programs:EAPs train employees to help coworkers facing issues, such as domestic violence.
  • Union-based programs:Larger unions may provide access to EAPs for members and their families.

Related:Team-Building Tips and Activities to Boost Employee Morale and Engagement

Employee assistance programs FAQs

The following are some frequently asked questions regarding EAPs:

  • Do EAPs only provide counseling for mental health issues?
  • Why might employees not take advantage of an EAP?
  • How many employers provide EAPs?
  • Are EAPs mandatory for employees or employers?
  • How do employers find EAPs?
  • How much do EAPs cost the employee and employer?
  • How do employees contact an EAP?

Do EAPs only provide counseling for mental health issues?

No, EAPs can cover a wide range of services. While the focus is often on mental health and helping employees achieve better work-life balance, EAPs can also help with topics like retirement planning, legal advice, returning to work after the birth of a child and finding child care.

Why might employees not take advantage of an EAP?

This usually stems from miscommunication between employers and employees. For an EAP to be successful, employers must reduce any stigma attached to contacting an EAP and emphasize its confidentiality. Also, employees may not fully understand the resources provided by EAPs, and they might be unaware of their functions beyond mental health and counseling, so they could instead turn to outside help for legal or financial matters. As a result, employers and employees may both benefit from year-long promotion of EAPs, frequent information sessions, posters and discussions during staff meetings.

How many employers provide EAPs?

Given the confidential nature of EAPs and that they are often provided by a third party, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of companies that provide EAPs. Survey results indicate that EAPs are increasingly common in larger companies. According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), about 95% of companies within the US with 5,000 or more employees have EAPs. Also according to the EAPA, 80% of companies with more than 1,000 employees have EAPs and 75% of companies with more than 250 employees provide EAPs.

Are EAPs mandatory for employers or employees?

No, employers may choose to provide EAPs as a benefit to their employees. Increasing numbers of employers have found that preventative services offered by EAPs are more cost-effective than remediating problems later on but employees cannot be forced to seek services of EAP so it is voluntary.

How do employers find EAPs?

Employers typically work with EAPs on a contract basis connecting with in-network providers. Some employers hire EAPs based their employee needs. For example, an ambulance company that has an emergency medical personnel staff may contract with mental health providers who specialize in work-related PTSD symptoms.

How much do EAPs cost the employee and employer?

As part of a compensation package, access to EAPs is free to employees. Employers typically pay between $12 and $40 per employee per year for EAPs—a very small percentage of the cost of medical insurance.

How do employees contact an EAP?

It is important to note that employees do not need to contact anyone in the workplace before contacting an EAP. EAPs usually offer 24-hour phone or digital hotlines for employees. Employees can contact the EAP at any time, with or without the knowledge of coworkers, managers or the HR department.

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