Weighing up the pros and cons of an EAP for employers and employees
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the eap benefits (like price) into perspective.
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.
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.
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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If you’re looking for a way to proactively look after your employees’ mental wellbeing, Spill can help. We’ve created a set of therapy tools to help you stay in tune with the mood of your team, train up your managers in mental health and offer next-day therapy sessions through Slack or MS Teams. Learn more about how Spill works.