As much as employers might prefer that employees’ personal affairs not interfere with their work, the reality is that problems outside of the workplace can and do impact job performance. Many of these issues go unaddressed due to fear of stigmatization, leading to further declines in employee health and productivity. Employers, however, can stem the tide by ensuring that all their people have access to confidential, professional help via EAP benefits.

What is an employee assistance program (EAP)?

An EAP provides voluntary, confidential services to employees who need help managing personal difficulties or life challenges. The original intention at the time of their creation in the 1940s was to minimize the effects of alcoholism in the workplace. EAPs have since expanded to address a wider range of concerns, including:

  • Marital or family problems
  • Mental health disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Financial stress
  • Legal problems
  • Bereavement
  • Caregiver stress

What are the benefits of an EAP?

An EAP helps employees improve their health and wellness, as well as their fortitude, so they can better respond to challenges that life throws their way. In turn, employers may experience better productivity, customer service and employee engagement. It’s also not uncommon to see reductions in:

  • Health care costs
  • Employee turnover
  • Workplace violence and safety incidents
  • Unplanned leave of absence

What is included in an EAP?

As the pressure to retain talent grows, EAPs continue to expand. Depending on their benefits provider, employers can expect their employees to have access to some or all of the following:

  • Individual assessments
  • Educational programs
  • Counseling services
  • Financial services
  • Legal services
  • Critical incident response
  • Elder care assistance
  • Family planning and child care

Services may be provided in person or online and in some cases, 24/7 support is available. There are also EAPs specifically designed for supervisors to help them manage workplace crises and employee performance.

Requirements for an EAP

Confidentiality is of utmost importance when offering an EAP. Any information pertaining to an employee’s physical or mental health is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or other privacy laws. In addition, counselors cannot reveal what they discussed with employees, except for rare instances where workplace safety or an ongoing criminal investigation would be compromised. Employers should seek legal counsel for more specific information on the laws or regulations that may govern their EAP.

How to offer an EAP to employees

Employers today have several different models of EAP to choose from based on their needs. Options include:

  • In-house EAP
    Professional counselors, who are either be hired directly by the employer or contracted through a third party, provide services at the office or place of work.

  • Outsourced EAP
    An intake specialist verifies employees’ eligibility for benefits and refers them to counselors and other specialists in their geographic area.

  • Blended EAP
    Employees have the option of either utilizing the EAP services at their workplace or finding support closer to home through the referral network.

  • Peer-based EAP
    Though it takes extensive training and education, employees can sometimes provide EAP assistance to their fellow coworkers.

Note that EAPs provided by an employer are sometimes referred to as management-sponsored programs and those provided by a union may be called member assistance programs.

Implementation of employee assistance programs

When rolling out an EAP, employers must promote the program and its potential benefits. If they don’t, participation will likely suffer since employees tend to fear the stigma of disclosing their personal problems. Effective EAP communications cover the following points:

  • Availability
    Let employees know that services are available to assist them with many of life’s challenges.

  • Confidentiality
    Make it clear that managers and supervisors do not have access to any information that an employee shares with a counselor or EAP professional.

  • Range of services
    Explain the wide range of issues that EAP can help address – substance abuse, divorce, financial problems, etc.

  • EAP cost
    Tell employees that EAP benefits are free of charge for both themselves and their families.

  • Safety
    Emphasize that when it comes to certain issues, such as substance abuse or depression, an EAP can help save lives.

Frequently asked questions about EAP benefits

What is the cost of an EAP?

Employers generally bear the full cost of an EAP, meaning that employees can take advantage of the program for free. The cost to employers depends on the number of employees they have and the depth of services made available. Most businesses pay a fixed rate per employee, per month.

What are examples of an EAP (employee assistance program)?

EAPs are multifaceted and may include, but are not limited to:

  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Marital and/or family counseling
  • Legal assistance
  • Grief counseling
  • Elder care assistance
  • Financial wellness tools
  • Mental health care

How often can you use EAP benefits?

EAPs are important because there is a direct correlation between an employee’s mental health and their performance at work. By helping workers overcome issues in their personal lives, employers may be able to maintain productivity and improve engagement.

Why is EAP important?

EAPs are important because there is a direct correlation between an employee’s mental health and their performance at work. By helping workers overcome issues in their personal lives, employers may be able to maintain productivity and improve engagement.

This article is intended to be used as a starting point in analyzing EAP benefits and is not a comprehensive resource of EAP requirements. It offers practical information concerning the subject matter and is provided with the understanding that ADP is not rendering legal or tax advice or other professional services.