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EAPs: benefits and considerations

Weighing up the pros and cons of an EAP for employers and employees

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What is an Employee Assistance Programme? What are the benefits of an EAP?What are the limitations of an EAP?Final EAP considerations for employers

Spill costs less per therapy session than an EAP, because 10x more people use it.

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What is an Employee Assistance Programme?

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are a useful workplace benefit offering super cheap, blanket mental health cover for all employees of a business. They usually come with a big brand name attached, too. 

Usually, an EAP charges you per employee, per month, and offers:

  • Access to a 24/7 helpline
  • A limited number of counselling sessions either online or in-person
  • Advice on health, work issues, addiction or legal matters 
  • Signposting to debt and financial help services 
  • Access to self-help articles online

That’s a lot of boxes ticked. But despite these benefits, EAPs don’t offer a proactive mental healthcare service. They rely on your employees approaching them for advice or counselling. And all too often, people only ask for help once they’re already feeling unwell (in other words: too late). So, is an Employee Assistance Programme the best option for your business? It depends on whether you’re looking for a mental health safety net or a more active model of support. Let’s weigh up the pros and cons. 

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Make sure you're asking the right questions when buying an EAP (or weighing up the one you already have)

What are the benefits of an EAP?

💰 They’re very, very cheap

A big benefit of EAPs for employers is the price. You can get EAP cover from as little as 40p, per employee, per month, as long as you sign up to a contract, which usually lasts for 12 months minimum. Critically, they are free at the point of use, so unless your EAP refers your employee to another specialist service, they won’t have to pay for anything out of their own pocket. Find out how EAPs can offer comprehensive cover so cheaply

🔒 They’re confidential

Accessing an EAP is completely confidential. As long as the EAP helpline is well signposted internally, then employees can seek help without having to discuss any sensitive issues with their manager or HR. Any reporting back to the business, like usage stats, will be completely anonymised, too. 

📞 They’re always-on

A 24/7 helpline can be a big benefit of an EAP service. If you’re feeling under the mental weather, then taking action can’t always wait until the next working day. An EAP helpline is usually a kind of triage service, designed to signpost you towards the right help or resources. If you need proper counselling, you may still have to wait up to 5 days to talk to a professional – and there will be a limit on the total number of sessions you can complete before being referred elsewhere. 

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

What are the limitations of an EAP?

👀 They need a lot of cheerleading

Just 5.4% of employees typically interact with an EAP by logging in to read a resource or calling the helpline. And because they charge a set price per person, per month, it’s not really in an EAP’s interests to help you boost this number. That means it’ll take a big effort from the People team to promote it and make sure everyone knows how to get in touch with their EAP when needed. Small businesses without HR resources to spare may find getting teams to engage with their EAP tricky. This notoriously low usage can put some of EAP benefits (like price) into perspective.

😓 Accessing help through an EAP can be a hassle

Getting triaged through a helpline and then waiting for a referral to counselling can be a frustrating process when you’re already feeling vulnerable. Most employees won’t have the helpline number to hand, either, so will need to go through HR and potentially compromise their anonymity. If a worker gets directed to therapy rather than the online self-help resources, they’re also likely to be assigned any counsellor with availability, rather than one with experience that matches their concern. 

🧠 They’re a light-touch solution

Buying an EAP is a fairly standard way of showing your team that you’ve invested in their mental health, but it’s really the bare minimum a company can offer. And workers are beginning to see it as such. EAPs can’t usually support your managers to have better conversations with their teams about mental health, nor can they help you to really challenge your company culture for the better. Usage reports can show how many people have used an EAP, but not how valuable people have found it. They also can’t help you to track how your team’s feeling more generally, so you’ll stay in the dark when it comes to team mood – unless you implement an employee wellbeing survey separately. 

Weigh up the pros and cons of your EAP with our handy checklist 👇

Final EAP considerations for employers

There are plenty of EAP benefits for employees, and they have an important role to play for businesses looking to support their team’s wellbeing on a small budget. But how effective they are depends massively on whether people in your team know about, and use, the resources available. As a reactive and wide-reaching service, it’s likely that EAPs have a bigger impact on workers experiencing low-level stress or anxiety than more complex mental health problems which need an ongoing clinical response. 

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Get our free EAP evaluation checklist

Make sure you're asking the right questions when buying an EAP (or weighing up the one you already have)

Find out why Spill gets 10x more usage than an EAP

Compare Spill with EAPs