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How to choose the right EAP

Your investment in an EAP is a big one, so make sure it's right for your team — here’s our EAP buyers guide

In this article
Comparing Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) providersWhat to look for in an EAP: a buyers guideChoosing an EAP: how to evaluate different providersWhat are the alternatives to an employee assistance programme?

Employee support doesn't have to mean an EAP: Spill is an EAP alternative that gets 10x more use.

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  • Choosing the right EAP is essential for providing effective mental health support to your team.
  • Before choosing an EAP, it's important to understand your company's goals, know your budget, speak to your network for recommendations, and plan the introduction and upkeep of the EAP.
  • When choosing an EAP, it can be helpful to focus on service characteristics such as the diversity of services available, how quickly employees can get support, the availability of support in different languages and timezones, service confidentiality, reputation, and access to usage data.
  • There are alternatives to an EAP that might better suit your company: health and wellness programmes, peer support networks, occupational health services, and targeted employee mental health services (like Spill!) can all support employee wellbeing.

Actively choosing to support your employee’s mental health is a really positive decision: after all, we’re all human, and we all experience the trials and tribulations of life. And when things take a turn for the worse, it can be a huge comfort to know there is help available. The most common way to provide this support for your team is via an Employment Assistant Programme, or EAP. 

Offering blanket mental health cover for all employees in a business, choosing an EAP can be a valuable addition to your benefits line-up. But, choose the wrong provider for your team and you could end up paying a lot of money for something that doesn’t get used.

💡 44% of UK companies are considering changing their EAP provider because they're unhappy with the service

So, with hundreds of EAP providers offering their services worldwide, how on earth do you go about choosing the right EAP for your company? Let’s find out 👇

Before choosing an EAP

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of how to choose the right EAP, it's worth doing a short exercise to better understand what you’re looking for. Providers all generally have a similar offering but there are differences in EAP quality and standards, and these differences can go a long way to determining how many people will use the service. So, here are three things to think about before you start comparing EAP providers:

🥅 Understand your company’s goals

What are you hoping to achieve by introducing an EAP? Perhaps you want to generally improve employee mental health and wellbeing, or maybe you have more specific goals in mind, like reducing the number of sick days or attracting higher quality job applicants. When choosing an EAP, have a clear idea of its purpose at your company and keep this goal in mind. 

💰Know your budget

Whether you’re the decision maker or have been tasked with researching different EAPs, you’ll need to know how much money is available. As well as the cost of the actual EAP itself, consider any extra budget you might need for service add-ons or staff training.

🗣️ Ask around in your network

Get the inside scoop and tips on potential providers by talking to someone you know who has bought or overseen an EAP before.

📑 Introduce new policies and procedures

An EAP is a significant service to introduce and as with anything new in the workplace, will benefit from its own policies and procedures for your employees to refer to. Use this as a chance to outline how the EAP will operate, its role in the team, how people can access the services, as well as confidentiality and privacy guidelines. Then, make sure your team knows where to find this information.

Choosing the right employee assistance programme

Every single company will have its own problems and needs, which is why choosing an EAP that’s right for your team is so important. Remember, an effective EAP doesn’t only provide support in times of crisis, but also contributes to a healthier, happier, and more productive work culture in general.

💡 An effective EAP doesn’t only provide support in times of crisis, but also contributes to an overall healthier, happier, and more productive workplace.

As you start researching EAPs, you’ll notice each one will have a slightly different offering. To make life easier, we’ve identified 10 criteria for selecting the right EAP that we think are important for its overall value. Review them while keeping your goals in mind: you’ll find that some criteria mean more to you and your company than others, and it's important to factor those preferences into your decision making. 

1. Choose an EAP where people can access a range of different services

EAP’s exist to support and guide your employees through difficult periods, but this doesn’t just mean counselling. The specifics will vary between providers but EAPs can offer a range of services and advice on things like financial and legal matters, consumer issues, housing concerns, physical and mental health, relationships and family matters, and work-related issues. Be sure to also find out whether they cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Support at Spill 👉 Spill offers comprehensive mental health support for anyone in your team who needs it and crucially, we don’t turn people away for having a pre-existing mental health condition.

2. Choose an EAP where people can book sessions quickly

Every single employee in the company should be able to benefit from the EAP whenever they need it. Look for providers that offer a short time delay between first contact and when support is available, especially when it comes to counselling sessions. And in case of emergencies, support should be available around the clock.  

Speed at Spill 👉 Spill is a Slack or Microsoft Teams integration that can be accessed at any time and offers therapy appointments within 24 hours of first contact. Therapy is available in 15 languages and our therapists cover 80+ different specialisms.

3. Choose an EAP which supports multiple languages and time zones

A diverse team makes up a rich company culture, so make sure everyone can use and engage with your chosen EAP. Consider the availability of different languages and specialisms, as well as inclusivity for diverse cultural backgrounds and disabilities.

Inclusivity at Spill 👉 Therapy is available in 15 languages and our therapists cover 80+ different specialisms.

4. Choose an EAP which gives people confidence that it's 100% confidential

One of the biggest barriers to EAP uptake is a misunderstanding around confidentiality. Many people, understandably, feel wary about making use of EAP counselling because they’re worried their employers will find out what they’re talking about. An EAP must guarantee confidentiality and it's really important that as part of the vetting process, you ask about the provider’s privacy policies and how your team’s personal information is protected.

Confidentiality at Spill 👉 Spill is fully secure and all therapy sessions are confidential. Both Spill and your company will never be able to access the content of any video therapy sessions.

5. Choose an EAP where people can talk to high quality therapists

EAP providers support your employees through some of the most challenging times. So, it's vital that their professionals are trained to a high standard. EAP quality and standards will differ so be sure to understand each provider’s requirements, particularly for therapists. Things to watch out for are registration with counselling bodies (like the BACP, UKCP, or NCS), a minimum time since qualification, and a set number of hours of experience.  

Quality at Spill 👉 We take we the quality of therapy at Spill very seriously. We have a pretty intense five-stage hiring process that currently only 13% of therapist applicants make it through. That technically makes it harder for a therapist to get into Spill than it does for a student with top A-Level grades to get into Oxford.

Infographic detailing the the educational and professional requirements to become a Spill therapist. All Spill therapists are BACP- or NCS-registered, have minimum 3 year degree and 200 clinical hours, and are in the top 13% of applicants.

6. Choose an EAP where people can get support easily

In setting up an EAP, you’re paying for a service from another company. And that service should be seamless. This means an easy setup process, smooth onboarding, and ongoing support after roll-out. Better still, some providers will offer an intro call with one of their team to talk about their services, explain how to use it, and answer any questions. The last thing you want is to lose people’s interest from the get-go with an overcomplicated system. 

Simplicity at Spill 👉 Add the Spill app to your company’s Slack or Microsoft Teams and start using straight away.

7. Choose an EAP that's known and loved by others

Trustpilot, customer testimonials, and social media are all ways you can find out how a company is really performing. Read customer testimonials for an idea of who uses a particular provider while Trustpilot tends to offer up very real experiences. Look for themes in the positives and negatives, and head to social media sites aimed at professionals, like LinkedIn, to see if there’s any general chatter (good and bad) about the providers you're considering. See something that worries you? Ask the company outright and listen closely to their response: you’ll learn a lot.

Spill’s reputation 👉 See for yourself.

A five-start Trustpilot review for Spill saying it's a fantastic tool.

8. Choose an EAP which offers tailored support for your team

Your company is like no other because it's made up of a group of individuals. And those individuals will have their own unique needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, so look out for flexibility in different providers. This could mean adjusting the range of services provided, integrating with an existing wellbeing platform, or sharing specific insights and data.

Flexibility at Spill 👉 Bring Spill into your company one of two ways: give Spill access to a few select employees and only pay for the therapy sessions you use, or unlock mental health support for the whole team. 

9. Choose an EAP where you can see usage data whenever you like

Of the 88% of UK employers who use an EAP, 31% have never evaluated the quality or impact of their provider. EAPs are a significant investment but when they work, they can have hugely positive impacts on both your employees and your business. But without taking the time to review data into usage or impact, you’ll miss out on key insights like how many people are using it, whether it’s having a positive effect, and any key trends in your team’s feelings.  

Insights from Spill 👉 Get meaningful (and anonymous!) mental health insights and usage data to spot trends and keep track of your team’s general morale.

10. Choose an EAP that fits with your budget

Make a note of your budget and compare the costs of different EAP providers, taking in account the range of services available and the potential benefits to your company, such as fewer sick days, happier and more productive teams, and better team morale.

Pricing at Spill 👉 Choose the Starter Plan or Team Plan depending on the needs of your team and either pay just for the sessions you use, or cover everyone with a price per employee on a rolling monthly contract.

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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 (else) to look for in an EAP

So, you’ve got an idea of what an EAP should include but how can you tell a really good EAP from a not-so-good one? EAPs should provide confidential and professional support to employees facing personal or work-related issues and to do that effectively, you’ll want to look out for these three extras that take an EAP from ‘just okay’ to ‘really bloody great’. 

A tailored approach 🫶

Every organisation is unique, meaning no one general EAP can meet the needs of every company. Instead, look out for providers that are willing to tailor their services to meet the individual needs of your team. This might look like offering therapy in multiple languages, accommodating a range of disabilities, or offering specialised services that address specific challenges. Keep in mind that an EAP that offers limited resources, such as only telephone or online support, may not meet the diverse needs of your employees.

💙 Spill is available as a Slack or Microsoft Teams integration and offers therapy in 15 languages with over 80 specialisms. 

Proactive support 🤝

A truly successful EAP is one that proactively supports your team. The passive nature of most EAPs means that many struggling employees fall through the cracks: they simply do not have the headspace to seek help and if they do, there’s a high chance they’ll be directed to self-help resources rather than therapy anyway. And that requires even more self-discipline to read, process, and implement. Proactive EAPs on the other hand, prioritise early intervention and prevention. 

💙 Spill Safety Net checks in with your team on a weekly basis and flags anyone who might be struggling. The result? Turning on Spill Safety Net means twice as many people benefit from and automatic check-ins means your teams interact with Spill every single week.

Spill Safety Net checks in with your team and flags anyone who might be struggling

Open and honest communication 👋

Introducing an EAP is just the beginning: keeping your employees engaged and using it is the hard part. A good EAP provider will support you with a clear and effective communication strategy to help introduce and maintain knowledge, understanding, and use of its services. This could include a company-wide setup talk, regular updates on new features, or seminars and workshops about mental health in the workplace. Open communication also covers data. We mentioned it in the list earlier but it really is something that sets EAP providers apart. If they’re reluctant to share your team’s anonymous mental health insights with you, it's impossible for you to get the most out of the programme.

💙 Spill offers setup guidance and support, and shares meaningful (anonymous) mental health insights about your team, so you can see how team mood changes over time.

Spill regularly asks how your team is feeling, so you never have to worry about an employee slipping through the cracks again.

See how Spill works

Choosing an EAP: how to evaluate different providers

We’ve talked a lot about different qualities an EAP should have, which is all very well but how can you fairly evaluate an EAP in practice?

Well, we’re going to do some ‘live’ evaluating for you: follow our approach, adapt it, and use it to help make a decision about which is the best EAP for your team.

1. Know your priorities

First things first, you’ll need to decide which of the 10 EAP criteria are most important to your company. Make a table, list out the 10 criteria we talked about earlier and then score how important each one is on a scale of 1 (least important) to 10 (most important).

Highlight anything scoring 8-10 and use these as your guiding compass when assessing different providers.

For example, if Spill were looking for an EAP (here’s a nice little recruitment titbit for you: all Spill employees have access to Spill therapy so we don’t need an EAP in real life…but go with us, just for fun) our table would look something like this:

EAP priorities Importance (/10)
Choice of support
Speed of booking
Inclusive support
Confidentiality 9
Quality of support 8
Loved by others 4
Flexibility of support 5
Ease of setup 3
Insights and data 7
Pricing 1

We care the most about the speed of getting help, inclusive support, and confidentiality, with the quality of support and its reputation coming in right behind. The other factors are important but in the case of the choice of support, we’d rather have a smaller scope of services that are delivered to a really high standard. Plus, we know our team would rather have good mental health support over things like legal matters and family concerns. And while money does matter, we’ve clearly defined our budget and as a tech company, there’s an army of tech-savvy people to help navigate the setup process if it does indeed prove complicated. But remember — every company is different.

2. EAP evaluation

So, priorities in mind, let’s take a look at three of the biggest EAP providers and see how they’d suit Spill. 

A quick heads up: we’ve taken the following information purely from each provider’s website so we don’t have access to pricing and there are definitely things we’d need to get more information about. We've also not included confidentiality as one of our evaluating priorities here (despite it being a high priority for us) because EAPs are naturally confidential services.

Provider Priority: inclusivity Priority: quality Priority: insights and data

LifeWorks (TELUS Health)

Spill suitability: 🥴

Supports 40+ languages Masters-educated counsellors and affiliates No information given
Health Assured

Spill suitability: 😃
- In-person therapy available nationwide
-Cover includes immediate family
Therapists must have:

- Qualifications accredited by the BACP, UKCP, BABCP or IACP
- 3 years of experience since qualifying
- 250 hours counselling practice
- 40 hours private clinic practice
Yes, depending on company size


Spill suitability: 🫣

- Covers immediate family
- CBT or specialist techniques available
No information given No information given

3. Summarise your findings 

Looking at these three providers alongside our priorities, we’d probably investigate Health Assured further and speak to one their team. This is largely because their website openly shares the qualifications required to be a therapist with the EAP, therapy is available around the country (we’re a hybrid team), the service is confidential, the cover extends to immediate family, and they could supply us with usage metrics. There are still a few things that we’d want to ask them about in more detail but of the three providers, it has the best potential. 

It's worth noting that having looked at these three EAPs compared to our list of priorities, it might be that an EAP isn’t actually right for our company (in fact, Spill could really benefit from…Spill. Fortunately we’ve got that covered! 🥳). There are plenty of EAP alternatives and luckily for you, that’s coming up next.

Choosing an EAP alternative

You may be reading all this and have the realisation that actually, an EAP isn’t what your company needs. If that’s you, then that’s amazing! Too many companies take on an EAP for the wrong reasons and it ends up as a box-ticking exercise that leaves struggling employees still struggling. So, bravo on recognising that an EAP isn’t what your company needs. But no fear, there are EAP alternatives  that can do just as good a job of caring for your team. And if you’re still set on an EAP but are curious about what else you could do to support your employees, this one’s for you as well.

Health and wellness programmes 🧘

Focusing on promoting employee health and wellbeing, these programmes offer various initiatives to support fitness, nutrition, stress management, mental health, and other wellness pillars like sleep. Think Virgin Pulse or even companies like Deliciously Ella, who offer a team plan to access their health and wellbeing app.

Mental health support (like Spill!) 🧠

Offering comprehensive talk therapy, these benefits give employees quick and free (to the employee) access to highly qualified therapists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. 

Work-life balance programmes ⚖️

Less a programme and more of an internal policy shift. Help your team with their work-life balance by introducing practices into the workplace such as core hours, flexible working, generous parental leave, and plenty of holiday (and encourage people to take it!). Part of our work-life balance initiative at Spill involves a right to disconnect policy that every member of staff agrees to when they join the company. 

Peer support networks 🗣️

More of an internal company effort, peer support networks dotted around an organisation can provide your team with a safe space to discuss personal and professional issues, share experiences, and offer support. They’re a great way to foster relationships across the company, too. Peer support networks can focus on different shared experiences and interests, like a particular mental or physical health challenge, identifying as LGBTQIA+, and shared cultural backgrounds, and can involve discussion or doing things together like walking, gardening, sport, or being creative.

Training and development 📚

You probably already have this covered but as a gentle reminder, providing your team with opportunities for personal and professional development can be a huge boost to team morale. As well as company-wide workshops on stress management, communication, and conflict resolution, consider how you can support individual teams and roles in their professional development. Many companies have an annual budget available per person to pay for conferences, training, or any other activities to develop their career.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) 🤝

Voluntary and employee-led, ERGs provide support and help in personal or career development by providing a safe space where employees can turn up as their authentic self. Groups can be formed based on shared backgrounds or interests, and play an important part in workplace diversity and inclusion efforts.

External referral services 📑

Provide your team with a list of external resources and referral services to help them with specific issues, such as mental health, financial planning, legal matters, or substance abuse. Make sure your team understands that this list is just a signpost and that they’d need to contact and pay for any services they use themselves.

Employee hotlines ☎️

Not quite a full EAP, employee hotlines are a confidential phone number people can call when they need support, guidance, or referrals to appropriate resources. While it's possible to set up an in-house number managed by someone internally, it’s usually more effective to hire an external company that specialises in employee hotlines. 

Manager training 🧑‍🏫

Arguably this could be grouped together with training and development, but it's got its own spot because manager training is just so important. As well as offering training in skills that make a good manager, support your leaders in learning to recognise the signs of employee distress and equip them with the knowledge of how to support anyone struggling.

Occupational health services 🖥️

Support your team with work-related health issues by offering regular ergonomic assessments for their equipment and desk setup, safety training, and stress management. 

This is a long list of alternatives and many of them are internal company initiatives. Remember, the most effective support you can provide your team is support they actually want, need, and will use. If you’re unsure what route to go down and what mixture of services you might need, consider starting with a company-wide survey or discussion group to find out what your teams think they would benefit from. An employee wellbeing survey would be a good place to start. Remember, the most effective support you can provide your team is support they will actually use.

The most effective support you can provide your team is support they will actually use.

Take your time when choosing an EAP

All that’s left to say is, take your time. EAPs (or EAP alternatives) can have a really positive effect on your team, but only if it offers the right support. Take the evaluation process seriously, do your research, and remember to speak to the people that really matter: your employees.

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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