Your employees are the foundation of your company. They can make or break your success, which is why having an employee assistance program (EAP), which helps workers who are struggling with certain personal issues, is good business. Before you offer an EAP, it is important to understand what it entails, its benefits and how to implement one in your business.
What is an employee assistance program (EAP)?
An EAP, as defined by the Society for Human Resource Management, is "a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance."
These are some of the common problems an EAP can help employees with:
- Stress management. Work and finances are some of the top causes of stress, according to WebMD. Stress management counseling can provide people with resources and techniques to cope with their stress and minimize the fallout from it.
- Domestic violence. Domestic violence resources range from counseling to legal advice and intervention.
- Grief counseling. Grief can be devastating to anyone. Having to work in the midst of it is often difficult. Grief counseling is one of the most reliable ways to help people through a hard time without completely breaking down.
- Alcoholism. Alcoholism has to be treated carefully and effectively, and EAPs are often better suited for guiding people to proper help instead of rendering it directly.
- Crisis management. Crises happen, and often out of the blue. It can range from losing a house in a natural disaster to any number of other unexpected problems. Crisis management helps people focus on what they can control, and it helps them stay organized. Crisis management resources can help people get back on their feet quickly and with minimal devastation.
- Psychological (mental health) disorders. There are many health disorders that are not disabling. While they introduce challenges to a person's life, many can be managed. EAP help will typically involve identifying problems and referring people to the right experts to get the specialized help they need. [Read related article: 5 Ways to Support Employee Mental Health]
- Substance abuse. Substance abuse issues are managed much like alcoholism. When a problem is identified, EAP resources can help get the affected person to a qualified professional or into a program that has a good chance of providing long-term help.
- Health and caregiving. Health and caregiving services offer expert advice for people who are in a situation that requires them to provide immediate care to another. The training can prepare a person for giving care to an elderly family member or someone with disabilities.
- Family services. Family services strategize around childcare and family planning. They can offer advice for organizing resources, time and ideas to provide a better home situation. This can include assistance in finding and financing expert childcare, planning family/medical leave, and budgeting for the growing family.
- Counseling referrals. EAPs are limited programs. Ultimately, they best serve the people they assist by providing long-term solutions. For many issues under the purview of an EAP, counseling referrals are the long-term solution with the best prospect for providing meaningful aid.
What are the benefits of an EAP?
One reason behind the popularity of EAPs is that it's a mutually beneficial program for employers and employees. Healthy and happy employees are more productive and engaged in both their company and individual jobs, which is great for a business's bottom line.
How an EAP benefits employers
Employee assistance programs not only benefit your employees, but they can also benefit you as an employer. Learn about some of the top ways an EAP can benefit your business.
- It increases employee productivity. Your employees being mentally and physically healthy is in your best interest as an employer. When employees are healthy, they have more opportunity to be engaged with their work, and engaged employees tend to have higher work performance. In fact, a Gallup study found that highly engaged business units see a 17% increase in productivity.
- It reduces employee absenteeism. That same Gallup study found that highly engaged business units also see a 41% reduction in absenteeism. When employees are healthy, they take fewer sick days. You may also see a higher percentage of employees arriving to work on time, since they won't be as delayed by physical or mental blocks.
- It boosts employee retention. EAPs support your employees' health and wellbeing, so they can focus on work. It can result in employees being more engaged and satisfied with their jobs and organizations, which in turn can boost your employee retention rates. Maintaining a high retention rate is crucial to your bottom line. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee's annual salary.
- It improves employee safety. There are roughly seven million reported workplace injuries in the United States each year, resulting in an average of 99 million days of lost productivity. Those injuries are caused by a variety of things, such as repetitive stress (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome) or accidents (e.g., falls or slips). Although you can't prevent every accident from happening, an EAP can help ensure your employees are taking care of their physical and mental health, putting them in the best position to be safe and careful at work.
- It saves you time and money. When employee safety goes up, the number of workplace injuries and illnesses go down. EAPs can help reduce the number of disability claims, labor disputes, health insurance claims, and workers' compensation claims. This can save you a lot of time and money that you would otherwise be spending on these claims.
How an EAP benefits employees
Some of the benefits of an EAP for employers overlap with employee benefits. These are some additional benefits for employees:
- The feeling that their employer cares about them
- Decreased anxiety at work and home
- More willingness or even excitement to go to work
- Direct and quick access to experts who can provide the support they are looking for
- Convenient access to a 24/7 hotline
How does an EAP work and what does it offer?
An EAP is free to employees. While they can take advantage of it if they like, participation in an EAP can't be mandated by employers and is entirely voluntary. Employers do, however, pay for these programs, and usage is highly encouraged. The cost of an EAP varies, typically from $10 to $100 per employee per year.
When an employee or their family uses the program, an EAP specialist determines their needs to direct them to the best resource. Employees should feel comfortable that the information they share will remain confidential. Employers are not privy to any information on which employees use the program or how often they do so. Employers can receive reports showing that the program is being used; they just won't know who is explicitly doing so.
Requirements for an EAP
Written confidentiality policies
To ensure the use of the program remains confidential for all employees, as the employer, you need to create and implement a written confidentiality policy.
An appropriate number of staff needs to be trained on the program's policies, including the formal procedures for monitoring the program and following up with employees who use it. Training also needs to include how employers can recognize issues so they can appropriately direct employees to the EAP. As services and employee needs evolve, it's essential to ensure that employees maintain and upgrade their skills pertaining to the EAP.
Scope and limitations of services policy
It is recommended that every company offering an EAP have a written policy that covers the program's relationship to the organization and the scope and limitations of services. This policy aims to get all parties on the same page as to how the program works and how it should be used.
The advisory process ensures that the employer and key staff are represented. The advisory board should reflect the diversity of your employee base as much as possible.
As employees' needs change, the EAP should be able to accommodate them by adding services.
24/7 crisis intervention services
One of the benefits of an EAP is that employees can access it 24/7, so employers need to make sure this service offering is in place.
Short-term problem resolution procedures
There may be situations where employees need resolutions to short-term problems. The EAP needs to have protocols in place to outline those problems and their resolution procedures, including when an employee needs to be referred to a resource outside the EAP.
For internal programs, a qualified staff member needs to be assigned to manage the program. This designated staff member needs to be trained accordingly and responsive to employee needs.
Legal and regulatory compliance
Since a standard service offering of an EAP is mental health, employers need to adhere to legal and regulatory compliance. As part of this training, understanding legal concerns surrounding service areas such as mental health is vital. It's also good practice for employers to understand other legal considerations of an EAP to adhere to all compliance protocols.
There needs to be a policy in place that outlines the program's intention, such as that it provides confidential and voluntary assistance to employees and their families. Think of this policy as a mission statement for the EAP.
Services that cater to all applicable languages and cultures
The services an EAP provides can't have a language barrier or discriminate against cultures. Services must be sensitive to each employee's language and culture. Along with these services, any materials you use to promote the EAP should be understandable to all your employees.
Different ways to access service
While phone counseling tends to be the most popular option, it should not be the only way services are provided.
Custom data reporting
This reporting offers employers key information about the program, such as if any employees threatened to harm themselves or someone else and how many employees are using the program. Customized data reporting can also track patterns and trends in usage. The data on the reports remains confidential.
Suggestions for an EAP offering
Michael Roche, co-founder and head of recruitment at Educating Abroad, has more than 10 years of recruitment and HR management experience managing and implementing new initiatives. He said an EAP can provide a wide range of assistance types to your employees, including discount vouchers for counseling and drug and alcohol abuse support.
"It is advisable to identify what is actually important to your employees rather than just guessing," Roche said. "You will find a lot more uptake in the benefit, which should result in improved productivity or morale within the business – the main goals of an EAP. You could use the fact-finding part of what your employees want from such a service as the start of the promotion of the new employee benefit which is soon to become available. Think of it like the release of a new mobile phone when they tease features before a launch."
How to offer an EAP to employees
There are three main ways to offer an employee assistance program: in-house, outsourced or blended. For smaller companies that don't have the resources to host an EAP in-house, outsourcing is recommended.
Like its name suggests, hosting an in-house EAP means that qualified employees manage the program and offer benefits on-site. It's the job of an in-house EAP professional to provide employees with direct services or referral resources.
An in-house service can feel more intimidating to employees who may be embarrassed to ask for help, worry that their information will not be kept confidential, and feel uncomfortable seeing these employees around the office. As a result, in-house services often don't get as much use as external programs do.
Employees can access an outsourced EAP by calling a toll-free phone number. An EAP specialist will answer calls and ask employees a few questions to verify their employer and location, then find out what the employee needs support for so that the specialist can recommend the best resources.
Through a blended program, employees have the option to seek assistance in-house or via a toll-free phone number. A blended program is not recommended for small businesses with limited resources.
How an EAP is implemented
According to Roche, these are the main steps to implement an EAP:
- Budget: Identify and confirm the budget for the new program. Figure this out by a per-employee fee to better understand how much you are prepared to spend.
- Services: Identify the services your employees would benefit from.
- Provider: Choose an EAP provider. Make sure to check its service-level agreement, as these vary considerably. Also, ask fellow business owners and HR professionals who use EAPs which providers have been good for them.
- Promotion: Use the time between choosing your EAP provider and launching the program to promote your new benefits.
- Training: Ensure key people, managers and department heads have been trained on the program, so it runs smoothly when unveiled.
- Launch: Consider launching the new benefit at a special event, such as a company gala, team day out or end-of-year party.
- Maintenance: You should periodically review your EAP. Keep in touch with employees on what they think and what they would like improved.
Ways to promote an EAP
No one benefits from an EAP if your employees don't know about it. While the top HR software providers offer these, it's your job to ensure they are taking advantage. In addition to launching it at a company event like Roche suggested, here are some ways to promote your program:
- Hang up posters around the office, especially in the break room.
- Post information on your company's intranet.
- Send company-wide emails.
- Mail postcards to employees' families.
- Make an announcement at quarterly employee meetings.
- Write about it in employee newsletters.
Additional reporting by Marisa Sanfilippo. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.