EAP (Employee Assistance Program): An In-depth Guide

Let’s focus on a growing trend in the workforce today, EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Maybe you have heard of it and maybe you haven’t, either way, there are many benefits to implementing such a program. The biggest reason: to help your employees. So let’s get down to what it is, how it works and what it may cost.

What is an employee assistance program?

An Employee Assistance Program is a free and confidential workplace counseling service offered by the company in order to support their employees well-being in the office and at home. Usually, an EAP is offered in conjunction with the health insurance plan.

An employee assistance program is centered on helping employees handle stressors related to work, family, relationship problems, financial woes, legal concerns and drug or alcohol struggles. Basically, an EAP helps employees handle issues which may impact the employee’s health and wellness, or even work performance. Sometimes, it is a possibility for both the employee and his/her family to participate in the employee assistance program.

How does the employee assistance program work?

It offers outside counselors to take care of issues that employees and their family members are dealing with. As mentioned, an employee assistance benefit that is received by employees or family members must remain confidential. So even though the employer is paying for the service, they have absolutely no insight into how an employee is specifically using the employee assistance program.

An  employee assistance program aims to assist employees:

  • Understand issues that directly impact them, even some underlying issues.
  • Clarify those issues and to explore how to address said issues.
  • Develop plans to tackle the issues and find helpful solutions.

Employee Assistance Program

Most employee assistance programs offer a particular amount of counseling referral sessions ,like 1-3, at no cost to the employee. These sessions help to assess the issue the employee is experiencing before recommending a resource, therapist, or service. It’s important to know that an EAP is not a long-term counseling solution, but it does help steer the employee in that direction.

What do employee assistance programs offer:

When you have an employee assistance program at your company, an employee can call a phone number to start getting immediate help from a counselor. The topics covered include the following examples:

  • Workplace conflicts – bullying and harassment, work-life balance, managing conflict or relationships with a difficult manager or co-workers, performance problems, adjusting to changes in the workplace, and managing work related stress.
  • Substance abuse – alcohol or drug addiction, dealing with an employee’s addiction or dealing with a family member’s addiction.
  • Personal or family issues – midlife and life transition issues, physical or emotional abuse by a partner, domestic violence, separation, divorce, or parenting and step-parenting issues.
  • Mental health issues – depression, anxiety, anger management, low self-esteem, stress management or anything else an employee or their family member is struggling with.
  • Health and caregiving issues – managing a disability or medical issue or getting help for an ill or elderly loved one.
  • Legal and family advice – marriage counseling, divorce, or child custody issues.
  • Financial counseling – gambling, bankruptcy, paying credit card debt, or creating a working budget.
  • Grief assistance – supporting employees who have lost a loved one, employees feeling the loss of a co-worker, or a major event like a fire at work.

Teamwork matters in a Employee Assistance Program

The counselor covers all the topics laid out, and more that we didn’t include. The job of the counselor is to provide guidance and to help find solutions. It is the employee’s decision if they wish to continue counseling once completing their free sessions.

How many employers offer an employee assistance program?

A National Compensation Survey found that those in the public sector have greater access to such programs than those in the private sector. In 2008, the data proved that 78% of public sector employees and 46% of private sector employees had access to employee assistance programs, which was a huge jump than that in 1999 where the statistics were 43% and 21% respectively.

“In the US, over 97% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs. 80% of companies with 1,001 – 5,000 employees have EAPs. 75% of companies with 251 – 1,000 employees have EAPs. A 2008 National Study of Employers following ten years trends related to U.S. workplace policies and benefits shows that the EAP industry continues to grow, with 65% of employers providing EAPs in 2008, up from 56% in 1998,” according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA).

Cost of an employee assistance program

Typically, an employee assistance program costs a company around $35 a year per employee. However, prices will vary depending on your location, and if the program is a  pay-per-use program or a fixed rate. Meaning the price you pay could be anywhere from $10-$100 a year per employee.

The following are EAP rates, by employer size, in Washington DC.

DC example of pricing for an Employee Assistance Program

 

Source: www.you-can-learn-basic-employee-rights.com

Some employee assistance programs are free, like that of a local college with students completing their master’s or doctorate programs. However, the counselor may likely be  a grad-student and as such, their experience dealing with serious issues may be limited.

Is an employee assistance program effective?

There has been a number of research studies on employee assistance programs and the answer to its effectiveness is divided. Some say, yes, it’s effective and others don’t agree. Those who work in HR say that they get mixed feedback from employees who have used their company’s employee assistance program.

Additionally, the biggest controversial finding is that an employee assistance program isn’t as confidential as an employee would like, especially depending on which service provider you use, like those in the public sector. Sometimes, the employee assistance program is within the company and employees are suspicious of using the service and they’re afraid that talking with an in-house counsellor will then directly be related to HR or even a manager – as such, employees fear that the dialogue will affect their career.

However, with that being said, employee assistance programs do offer employers an option on how to deal with employees who are troubled as the employer is not equipped or qualified to do anything themselves.

Lastly, employee assistance programs are a growing trend and will only continue to rise in popularity therefore HR professionals hope that continued research will finally offer a concrete answer as to whether employee assistance programs work, or don’t.

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