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EAPs for start ups and small businesses

How to choose an Employee Assistance Programme as an SME

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Mental health challenges in startups and small businessesThe benefits of outsourcing mental health supportEAPs for small-midsize businessesAlternatives to EAPS for mental health support

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

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Running the HR department as a one-person band can be a lonely business. Between building out key policies, hiring, training – and in some cases, office management – it can be tricky to keep an eye on more abstract things like company mood, culture and wellbeing. 

But prioritising proper mental health support can be even more valuable in small teams, where just one person struggling is enough to affect the rest of the business, whether that’s by taking time off during a busy period or by unintentionally affecting the morale of everyone else in the room. Let’s take a look at why mental health challenges crop up in these environments – and what your options are for bringing in some external support.

Mental health challenges in startups and small businesses

It’s hard to tell how your team are feeling 

Around 1 in 4 people experience poor mental health each year in the UK. That’s a quarter of your team. If you don’t have a way to keep track of how people are doing, then you’re probably not spotting anyone who’s struggling early enough to help them before they feel properly unwell.

Shiny new managers

It’s common practice in startups and young businesses to promote team leaders internally rather than hiring experienced managers. Having younger people moving up the ranks quickly works well for lots of reasons, but there’s a drawback: they might be brilliant at managing KPIs, but have less experience managing people’s emotions. This can heap a lot of unexpected pressure onto new managers, and have knock-on effects for your overall team’s wellbeing. 

High-productivity cultures

Burnout is a kind of emotional exhaustion caused by stress at work – and it’s behind 43% of all sick days taken in the UK. Between tight deadlines and small teams who feel personally responsible for delivering quality work on time, burnout is rife across small businesses and startups.

Lack of impartial help

Just 11% of employees feel comfortable discussing a recent mental health problem with their line manager. That could be down to old-fashioned stigma, or it might be because employees feel there’s no clear pathway towards getting professional help once they’ve disclosed an issue. HR leaders can deliver lots of things, but therapy shouldn’t be one of them. Outside of work, getting treatment for mental health challenges through the NHS can take a long time (and all the while your employee’s motivation, mood and productivity is likely to slide).

Remote working

Isolation is an important precursor to poor mental health. It can be easier for employees to socially withdraw when they’re not experiencing the kind of informal communication and collaboration that’s encouraged by working in the same room as other people. If you rarely see your team in person, it can be even harder to spot when a colleague’s showing signs of stress, too.

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The benefits of outsourcing mental health support

🧠 Access to the pros

Give your team easy access to qualified mental health professionals

💙 Show people you care

Improve retention and attract the best new talent with bonafide mental health benefits

🤒 Lower absenteeism 

Reduce sick days by helping people to actively manage stress and maintain their mental wellbeing 


💡 Increase productivity and innovation

Get your team out of survival mode and free up their brainpower for big work challenges

We’re sure you’re looking into mental health support because you agree it’s the right thing to do for a happier and healthier workplace. But if you’d like a bottom line for your bottom line,  then a 2022 study by Deloitte found that an employee with poor mental health costs their employer an average of £2,646 a year in absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover costs. 😲

A traditional EAP provider will probably be your first port-of-call when you’re looking to bring in some external mental health support for your team.

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

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) for small-midsize businesses

EAPs are a cheap way to provide blanket mental health cover for your whole team. There’s lots to like about them, but they are fairly old school in terms of their approach. Whether or not an EAP will suit your business depends on a few factors. 

Usually, an Employee Assistance Programme offers:

  • Access to a 24/7 helpline (they'll call back to triage your team to the right place)
  • Advice on work or personal issues, including stress management, bereavement, domestic abuse, addiction support or legal matters 
  • A limited number of therapy sessions, either online or in-person
  • Signposting to debt and financial support services 
  • Access to online self-help articles 
  • Discounts through partnerships with mindfulness apps, gym memberships and health insurance providers


The monthly cost of an EAP is usually between 40p and £1.25 per employee. If this sounds low, we agree. EAPs are budget-friendly because their price model is built on the fact that not everybody who needs support will get triaged into high-cost services like therapy.

EAPs are easy for small HR teams to implement, as long as you’re happy to spend some time regularly cheerleading their existence to your company. They’re often described as a “safety net” because they rely on your employees recognising that they’re feeling low and ringing a helpline themselves.

Picking up the phone can feel like a big barrier when you’re struggling with your mental health. Employees will need to answer some questions about their circumstances to be referred to the right experts, which might not be an easy or immediate process.

EAPs

✅ Cheap

✅ Confidential

✅ 24/7 helpline

✅ Accessed by 5.4% of your team, on average


EAPs offer an easy way to implement basic mental health coverage. They’ll have a big, trustworthy brand name attached, but they generally don’t signal a progressive approach to mental health. If you’re looking for tailored, proactive support – or if you’d like to impress candidates browsing your careers pages – then you might like to look a little further than an EAP.

Alternatives to EAPs for mental health support

EAPs aren’t the only solution out there. When comparing mental health support systems for your startup or small business, it’s always good to think about how you’d like your team to interact with the help on offer (if a phone line feels outdated, we hear you). One way to get more people the help they need is to sign up for a system that puts access to qualified therapists where your team already works: on MS Teams, or on Slack, for example.

Another consideration is how proactive you’d like your support system to be. Arguably the biggest limitation of an EAP is that it can only support your team once they feel unwell, and  therapy only happens once someone’s in crisis. If you’d rather focus on helping your employees to actively maintain their mental health so they can feel happier and healthier at work, making them less likely to need to take time off in the first place, then you might be in the market for an altogether more proactive kind of care. 

Maybe this is a predictable plot twist, but Spill’s mental health support offers two key things for startups and small businesses:

  • Quick and confidential access to qualified therapists through Slack and MS Teams
  • A check-in system that automatically reaches out to employees who are feeling low, so they can get proper mental health support sooner rather than later

Typically, Spill will be used by 50% of your team, too – that’s ten times more employees than an EAP.

Getting a bit of emotional heavy lifting done for you as a small HR team means you can get on with all the other important stuff you’re great at. Whether you decide to go for an EAP or a more proactive model, any mental health support platform will have its pros and cons for your small business. As long as you know what to look out for, you’re well on your way to becoming a more supportive and productive workplace.

See how Spill can help your team feel better at work.

For an easy way to evaluate your EAP offering, use our handy checklist 👇

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