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EAP services: what's included in an employee assistance programme

Employee assistance programmes tick a lot of boxes when it comes to employee wellbeing - here’s what you can expect them to include

In this article
How do employee assistance programmes work?What services are provided in an employee assistance programme?What services aren’t covered by an EAP?What services does Spill provide?

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  • EAPs are designed to support employees facing personal or professional issues, and offer services such as counselling, work-life balance support, legal and financial advice, crisis intervention, substance abuse support, training and development, referral services, and manager training.
  • EAPs are confidential, and information shared with EAP professionals is not disclosed to employers unless there is a safeguarding reason.
  • EAPs do not cover mental treatment, legal representation, financial support, long-term counselling, or childcare.
  • Spill focuses on delivering proper mental health support that's accessible, inclusive, proactive, and flexible: on average, 10x more people use Spill than an EAP.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) don’t come with the catchiest title. In fact, it's hard to understand exactly what they even are, let alone what EAP services they offer, from the name alone. It’s this misunderstanding that is one of the reasons behind low EAP usage — figures suggest just 5% of employees make use of theirs — but this article isn’t about that (this one is though).

Instead, we want to bring you an overview of all the EAP services included to help you fully understand what ‘EAP’ actually means and decide if it's right for your company. And if it's not, we explain how Spill is one of the EAP alternatives that can support your team just as well. But before we jump into EAP services, let’s first look at how EAPs work.

How do employee assistance programmes work?

The usual spiel associated with EAPs is that they’re programmes designed to support employees who may be experiencing personal or professional issues that could affect their performance at work, health, or wellbeing. This support can take the form of counselling, self-help resources, and guidance from other trained professionals. But what this spiel doesn’t tell you is how EAP services actually work

Step 1: an employee realises they need support

This moment will look different for everyone but if one of your employees is looking for support, they’ll be facing a personal struggle. They may have mentioned it to you (or another trusted colleague) before, kept it bottled up, or talked things through with friends and family: either way, they’re feeling ready to get help.

Step 2: an employee finds the EAP contact details

It’s at this point that some people can fall at the first hurdle. Why? Because if they can’t find the EAP’s contact details, they’re going to have to ask someone else in the company for them. And that stops their initial contact with the EAP from being confidential. Different providers will offer various ways to make use of EAP services: in the majority of cases people pick up the phone but some providers also offer online or app-based ways to make first contact, such as through an online portal, messaging service, or email. 

As a quick aside, we wanted to briefly flag the importance of making the contact details for your EAP transparent. The most important thing you, as an employer, manager, or HR professional, can do in preparation for this stage of the process is make sure everyone on your team knows how to contact your EAP. Save the contact details somewhere everyone can access them, print off posters and information cards, send round emails, do whatever you can to give people the chance to clock the details and keep their privacy: you never know when someone might need them.

Step 3: an employee contacts the EAP

The specifics of the point of first contact will depend on which EAP provider you’re with, but whether your employee makes contact via phone, email, or online portal, they won’t necessarily get the support they need straight away. Instead, they’ll have an initial chat with one of the EAP’s trained professionals to share what’s going on. During this call, the EAP professional will assess their situation, gather relevant information, and figure out the best course of action for their needs and required EAP services.

An example contact information sheet from Health Assured

Step 4: an employee gets support

After this initial triage call, your employee will be signposted towards the EAP services they need. Depending on the situation, this might simply be to self-help resources offered by the EAP such as articles, videos, podcasts, and exercises: in fact, 60% of calls to an EAP are often directed to such self-help content. The remaining 40% of calls however, may get alternative support depending on the EAP services available. This could be offering short-term EAP counselling sessions, a chat with an expert (depending on your employees’ concern, this could be an expert in areas like legal, financial, work-related, or family concerns), or a training course. In some cases, the EAP will refer your employee to a list of alternative, external services that could better support them. 

Step 5: an employee returns to work

In a best-case scenario, your employee will return to work feeling better supported and able to continue with their work. Of course, in reality the short-term support offered by EAPs may not be enough. That’s why some EAP services offer follow-up sessions and ongoing monitoring of the situation to make sure that the individual is getting the support they need, and to also evaluate the effectiveness of the service. 

It should go without saying that all EAP services are confidential and it's really important that your team understands that. Information shared with EAP professionals and in therapy sessions are not disclosed to employers unless there is a safeguarding reason to do so. In other words, EAP counsellors are required to break confidentiality in situations where they believe that an employee may harm themselves or others, including children or vulnerable adults.

For your team to get the most out of an EAP, they should feel able to seek help without worrying about jeopardising their job or relationships at work.

Lastly, cost. You’ll obviously get different pricing quotes depending on provider and these tend to be based on cost per employee. Most contracts are annual but some (like Spill!) are available on a rolling monthly basis. While you’re paying for your EAP provider, your employees are not. As a workplace benefit, EAPs aim to promote a healthy and productive work environment: your employees can freely use the EAP at no cost to them. But, that can depend on the level of cover you go for: the majority of companies in the UK (84%) have ‘comprehensive’ EAPs which includes telephone, online, and face-to-face services, however if you opt for only telephone and online services, there may be an additional charge for face-to-face counselling if it's required. Be sure to keep this in mind during your EAP research phase — you’ll benefit from having a rough understanding of the available budget before making your choice. 

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What services are provided in an employee assistance programme?

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) provide a range of services including counselling, financial support, legal advice, crisis intervention, support for substance abuse, training and development, and referral services.

While a number of services are available through EAPs, it's important to note that the exact EAP services on offer will differ between providers: not all EAPs will offer every service. But, here’s an overview of the kinds of services you can expect from an EAP.

EAP counselling services

Perhaps the most well-known function of an EAP, short-term counselling is available for your team and in some cases, for their immediate family as well. These sessions can support you and your team through a number of life’s challenges, such as:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Grief
  • Relationship concerns
  • Addiction
  • Workplace matters

There’s an important distinction between short-term counselling and longer-term therapy, and it’s worth making sure your team understands the difference. Short-term counselling is time-limited: it usually runs for a maximum of six sessions and focuses on a specific issue.

Long-term therapy on the other hand isn’t time bound and can take place on an ongoing basis. The continuous nature of long-term therapy means that the therapist and individual can explore a broader range of issues, often unpicking and exploring new avenues as the sessions progress.

Work-life balance support

When you consider that on average, we spend 90,000 hours of our life at work, it’s no wonder that finding a work-life balance is a challenge for many of us. But, work isn’t everything and many of us are juggling children, caring for loved ones, training, and financial strain. EAPs can provide guidance and support in all these areas. Sometimes, they may be able to speak to an expert on the phone about their challenges but in many cases they’ll be signposted to various forms of content produced by the EAP. This can include articles and videos, but also podcasts, infographics, Q&As, interviews, and exercises that are all accessible either online or, if the provider has one, an app.

Legal and financial advice

Most of us won’t generally know how to deal with financial or legal issues until we have to, and knowing that there’s initial advice available for free can be a huge comfort during a difficult time. While not legal or financial representation, EAPs can offer professional advice on debt management, budgeting, family law, estate planning, consumer rights, and more, via phone calls with an expert or again, via self-help content resources online or an app.

Crisis intervention

Some events can have an altogether different impact on your employees’ mental health, and these can require immediate attention. Many EAPs offer support for ‘crisis’ situations such as natural disasters, violence, or the sudden death of a coworker. Having access to immediate help can go a long way in supporting the recovery journey, and help mitigate the impact on mental health and job performance.

Substance abuse

For anyone dealing with alcohol or drug abuse, EAPs can offer assessment, counselling, and referral services for the individual, while also extending support to their family.

Training and development

You’ll likely have a separate budget for learning and development, but some EAPs also offer workshops and seminars on topics such as stress management, communication skills, conflict resolution, and leadership development. These sessions tend to be for your company and team only, and are tailored accordingly. 

Referral services

Sometimes, the short-term support available via an EAP isn’t long or specialised enough. In these instances, the EAP may provide referrals to external resources like alternative mental health professionals, financial advisors, or legal experts, as well as support groups and community initiatives.

Manager training

No one is born a natural manager and it's a responsibility that requires constant development. Some EAPs include support specifically for managers in their services, such as providing guidance in dealing with employee performance concerns, team dynamics, burnout, hiring, and other workplace concerns. It will vary between providers but manager training can be delivered in person, via online courses or content, or in virtual sessions.

Remember, this is a broad overview of all the potential things an EAP can include. When choosing your company’s EAP provider, be sure to weigh up the services that will most benefit your team. Read our article on how to choose an EAP for more advice on evaluating the different services on offer. And if you want to take a shortcut, we’ve also got a roundup of the best EAP providers in the UK.

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What services aren’t covered by an EAP?

There’s no doubt that EAPs tick a lot of boxes and it’s one of the reasons why so many companies have one. However, there are some things that are point blank not included in any EAP provider’s offering:

  • Medical treatment: EAPs are not a substitute for general medical or emergency care, and don’t cover medical expenses. They also don’t provide access to psychiatrists: counsellors on an EAP cannot diagnose mental conditions or prescribe any form of medication.
  • Legal representation: While your team can get professional legal advice or referrals, EAPs don’t provide legal representation in court. 
  • Financial support: EAPs can offer financial counselling, advice, or referrals but they do not provide financial assistance like loans or grants.
  • Long-term counselling or therapy: The counselling available via EAPs is typically short-term, meaning a few sessions. If an employee needs long-term therapy, they may need to find additional support outside of the EAP.
  • Childcare: EAPs can give advice on childcare services and even referrals to local services, but they don’t offer it themselves.

What EAP services does Spill provide?

Here at Spill, we don’t think of ourselves as an EAP. Instead, we like to think we’ve taken the best, most valuable parts of an EAP (i.e. access to therapy) and combined them with a few extra special features of our own.

Our bread and butter is therapy. And not just any therapy, but quality talk therapy provided by a team of highly trained professionals. We have over 90 therapists working for us and our vetting process is a tough one. In fact, only 13% of all applicants have ever made it through. Every single one of our therapists has been qualified for at least three years, is registered with a counselling body such as the BACP, UKCP, or NCS, has at least 200 hours of experience as well as clinical supervision. And once they’re working with us, we continue supporting them in their learning and development.

So, we deliver really good therapy. But that’s not all:

We’re accessible

…and very available. Spill is a Slack or Microsoft Teams integration, meaning it slips seamlessly into your team’s everyday communication. There’s no new software for people to get their head around and with one click, your employees can access help. Within 24 hours of first contact, your team can have a one-off therapy session and if they’d rather message a therapist over speaking to them, they can use our Ask a Therapist feature to talk through their concerns. Plus, they can access Spill and arrange therapy any time, including evenings and weekends — all they need to do is open Slack or Microsoft Teams.

We’re inclusive

Therapy is a very general term and doesn’t portray the many different branches of mental health support people will need. As well as offering therapy in 15 languages, we’re also able to offer 80+ specialisms, meaning if someone in your team has a particular concern, chances are we have a therapist trained in that area. And if we don’t, we’ll do everything we can do to help them find the proper support they need. Plus, we don’t turn away any employee with a pre-existing or acute mental health condition (which sadly, some EAPs do).

We’re proactive

Most EAPs require people to actively decide to engage with them. More often than not, people don’t know that support is available and when something happens, it can take a lot of energy to realise they a) need help and b) go and get it. It’s this requirement to engage that contributes to the low usage of EAPs. Spill on the other hand, is a proactive service. The Spill Safety Net is a weekly mental health check-in with your team. Managers can also give regular updates on their reports and our algorithm flags anyone at risk. Spill therapists message these people to give them access to therapy the very next day. Not only does this make sure struggling employees are proactively cared for, but everyone in your company will automatically engage with Spill on a weekly basis.

We’re flexible

We understand that not everyone in your team will need or want mental health support, which is why we offer two plans. The Starter Plan is our pay-as-you-go therapy, where you choose specific employees who need access to Spill now. There’s no monthly commitment and no wasted sessions: you only pay for the therapy you use. If you want to turn on mental health support for the whole company however, our Team Plan does just that. Offering Spill access to everyone, the Team Plan includes Spill Safety Net, the Slack and MS Teams integrations, and is offered on a 30-day rolling contract. Start with a few people or support the whole team: the most important thing is that the people who need support, get it.

We share usage data

On average, 10x more people use Spill than a traditional EAP. We appreciate you spending good money to bring Spill into your company, which is why we share your company’s usage data to give you a clear view on its uptake. Plus, the Team Plan gives the admin of the account access to loads of meaningful (and anonymous) mental health insights, so you can track how your team’s mood changes over time and make practical changes to keep morale high.

So, there you go. The (many) EAP services available to you and your team. If you’re researching different providers, make a note of the services they offer and consider asking your team what support they think they’d actually use. After all, there’s no point getting an EAP with as many services as possible when it turns out people only want access to therapy. 

Who is eligible to use EAP services?
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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.

See how Spill stacks up against EAPs