10x more people use Spill than an EAP, meaning 10x more people get the support they need.
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are hailed as a company benefit that provides (very) affordable blanket mental health cover for everyone in the business. EAPs tick a lot of boxes when it comes to employee wellbeing: counselling, self-help resources, and 24/7 helplines all suggest that every employee is getting the support they need. But, despite 88% of UK employers offering an EAP, general usage remains low with just 5% actually using their programme.
Chances are, if you’ve landed on this page you’re facing a similar problem. And we get it: it’s a frustrating position to be in. Having taken the time to carefully research and pick an EAP provider, low uptake can be disheartening.
Well, you’re not alone. Despite being valued at $6.8 billion in 2021, the EAP market doesn’t seem to have ‘cracked it’ just yet: 44% of UK companies are considering changing their EAP provider and 16% are looking to cancel.
So, what’s going on? Here, we explore why employees don’t use their EAP and share some thoughts on what you can do promote your EAP to employees with a structured EAP communication strategy. Alternatively, skip the preamble and get straight to the strategy — we’ll see you there.
Why don’t employees use their EAP?
‘Usage’ of an EAP covers a fairly broad remit of actions such as calling the helpline or reading self-help resources: it doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee has received any actual counselling. As you might expect, EAP usage went up in the pandemic years with 347,000 more employees turning to them for support in 2020 and 2021. But, in general usage is still low.
The low uptake and high drop-off of EAP usage suggests that despite their good intentions, employees needing support are left struggling.
The support is there, but people just aren’t making the most of it. Here are four common reasons why employees don’t access their EAPs.
Employees have questions around EAP confidentiality 🤐
When we experience difficulties in any fraction of our lives, it will of course affect how we feel at work. For some people, the problem might even be work itself. In any case, reaching out to an EAP for support can be nerve wracking: often because people don’t know what will get shared with their employers. In fact, one survey found that 43% of people feel uncomfortable telling their employer or manager about a mental health problem, worrying it could affect their career or how they’re treated at work. This can lead to those who really need support not making use of the service or not being fully honest about why they’re seeking help, which in turn will slow their recovery.
There’s a stigma attached to getting help 🪧
In the last few years (i.e. the post-pandemic world), we’ve made a huge amount of progress in how we talk about mental health. But, there’s still a way to go: particularly when it comes to mental health in the workplace. And this stigma can worsen existing conditions, create new ones, and even cost lives because people feel unable to speak up and get the help they need.
Employees don’t know how an EAP works 🤷
As a reactive service, EAPs require the individual to interact with them in order to access support. A huge barrier in getting help can simply be a result of someone not knowing how to use the service. Crucially, they may also want to avoid asking how to use it because this will flag that they need support. Fear of the unknown can also hold people back and if your team doesn't know what to expect when they make a call or interact with the EAP, they might be wary of taking action.
Employees don’t know the EAP exists 🔎
Cast your mind back to the first day on the job… chances are, you had a pretty thorough onboarding complete with a whole list of logins and ‘things’ to explore. But, as the real work begins, you soon forget about those extras — like the EAP. Usage of your EAP may be low simply because people don’t know it's there or that it’s freely available to use. Some might think it's purely for people in crisis or that their concerns aren’t relevant for using the service. It doesn’t help that ‘employee assistance programme’ isn’t the catchiest (or clearest) of names, meaning that someone browsing through the company’s offerings could still very easily pass it by.
There may well be additional reasons for why your team isn’t engaging with your chosen EAP but it all boils down to the same thing: your EAP communication strategy needs a revamp.
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How to promote your EAP to employees
Improving EAP awareness in your company is an ongoing process. For your team to feel aware of and comfortable about interacting with the support available, you’ll need to (tactfully) bombard them with updates and information about what’s on offer.
The launch of a new EAP and the onboarding process of a new hire are obvious milestones to really champion your programme but when you’re facing low usage in general, it’s all about reframing your team’s perception of the EAP. So, here goes: seven ways to improve EAP awareness in your company and encourage your employees to use their EAP.
1. Internally rebrand your EAP
Say EAP to anyone in your company and you’ll likely be met with a very blank stare. The term ‘employee assistance programme’ doesn’t really tell you what it does and to many people, can actually sound quite intimidating. So, give it a new name that makes sense to your company. Terms like ‘employee support’, ‘employee mental health and wellbeing’, or ‘employee health benefits’ are all clearer than EAP, but there are sure to be many more out there — get brainstorming!
2. Advertise your EAP everywhere
Once you’ve settled on an internal name for your EAP, tell everyone! Design posters, leaflets, and even mini ‘business cards’ to pin up and put around your office reminding people that they have free access to the service, and list what they can get. But don’t stop there: take it online, too. If you have an internal company wiki or resource hub (or even intranet!), set up an EAP information page. Or consider starting a regular newsletter designed to promote the service and highlight its features. It might feel like you’re sending things out into the ether, but you never know when that information might suddenly become useful to someone who has previously ignored it. Plus, the more you talk about it, the more it will become ingrained in your company culture.
It might feel like you’re sending information out into the ether, but you never know when it might suddenly become useful to someone who has previously ignored it.
3. Run EAP user sessions
Whether you’re launching a new EAP or rebranding an existing one, people won’t interact with it if they don’t know how to use it. Consider setting up regular user sessions to show people how to access their support. This could be a short, in-person session with small groups, a virtual meeting demo, or even a Loom video that you can pre-record and send round to individuals and teams alike. Go back to basics: explain what an EAP is, the support it offers, and where people can find it. Show everyone how to log in and remember to include key information such as:
- EAPs are confidential
- Access to support is free
- Support is available anytime — people don’t have to ask permission from HR or their manager to use the programme
Keep a note of new questions that crop up, too. Chances are, if one person is asking it, others are thinking it.
4. Show people what to expect when they need support
As we mentioned earlier, fear of the unknown can be a huge barrier to seeking help. What happens if someone calls the helpline number? Will they get help straight away? What about if they don’t like talking on the phone?
Take this extra stress away and show your team what happens when they use the EAP. Model case studies of different scenarios, draw out flow charts of each step, and regularly share these with your team so they understand what will happen if they reach out for support.
5. Hold an employee wellbeing day
Okay, it doesn’t have to be a day — it could just as easily be an hour, or half a day, but the idea remains the same: make your team’s mental wellbeing part of everyday company life. You could even hijack an existing calendar event, like Mental Health Awareness Week. To reduce the stigma around mental health, we need to keep talking about it. Depending on your budget and resources, you could include guest talks and drop-in counselling sessions, or keep it small with coffee, cake, and a chat during a lunch break. Get your leadership team involved and stick with it: the first event might feel a little stilted but that’s just because it’s new.
6. Upskill your managers
It can take a lot of courage for someone to approach their manager and ask for advice on how to use your EAP for a particular problem. And it can be deeply disheartening to be met with a reply of: “I have no idea, you’ll have to ask so-and-so in HR.” Asking someone new, who they may not even know, can be daunting and a lack of interest or understanding from the manager can signal that the EAP isn’t worthwhile. In contrast, an engaged, knowledgeable and well-equipped manager will act as a great internal promoter and can signpost their team members to the support they need. Train your managers and leadership team in everything there is to know about your EAP, as well as how to manage conversations about mental health challenges. Mind’s ‘People managers’ guide to mental health at work’ is a great place to start.
7. Gather regular feedback on your EAP
Considering that 88% of UK employers have an EAP, you might be surprised to learn that 31% of those companies have never evaluated the quality or impact of their programme. Not only will regular surveys act as a promotional tool for the EAP, it's vital you gather information on how the EAP is (or isn't) helping your team. Having an EAP isn’t a box-ticking exercise: it’s a tool to actively support your team’s emotional wellbeing. Only with regular feedback can you understand the type of support your team needs, the questions they have, and whether it's time to find an alternative.
Offer mental health support to a few employees or cover the whole team.
What makes an EAP successful?
There’s no doubt that EAPs have the right intention. But, for them to be truly valuable it requires a lot of work: not only do you have to promote, coax and encourage usage, but your team has to actively approach and engage with the programme. Not the easiest thing to do when life is feeling sticky. This reactive approach is one of the main reasons why EAPs don’t work — and why engagement is so low.
For an EAP to be successful, employees need proactive support. This means that rather than assuming your team will quickly identify that they’re struggling and then reach out for support, there’s a process in place that instead spots a change in how someone is feeling and proactively guides them towards help. If this sounds like a solution that’s right for you, then you might be in the market for an altogether different kind of mental health support.
For an EAP to be successful, employees need proactive support.
Take Spill’s Team Plan for example: it gives you access to the Spill Safety Net, which automatically reaches out to see how your team is doing. And if someone records feelings that flag them as ‘at risk’, our therapists will send a message offering therapy the very next day should they want some extra support. So, your team is taken care of and everyone is engaging with Spill on a weekly basis. Did we mention that Spill is typically used by over 50% of employees within a year, too?
Get our free EAP information poster
Spill is typically used by 50% of employees in a year. That means up to 10 times as many people get support vs. an EAP.