Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are a relatively well-known concept in the employee benefits industry. Sometimes also referred to as employee and family assistance programs (EFAPs), these programs are designed to help both employees and their loved ones manage work, health, and life challenges.
According to a 2010 survey by Statistics Canada, 27% of employees indicate that they feel “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressed while at work. While some occasional work stress is normal, maybe even expected, it more often than not leads to burnout, high turnover, and presenteeism. It’s ultimately beneficial for employers to have healthy, focused, and productive teams. Introducing an Employee Assistance Program to your workforce, and educating them on how to best take advantage of the program, can help employers achieve this goal.
What is Presenteeism in the Workplace (and How is it Affecting Your Business)?
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What is an EAP?
First, let’s briefly go over what an EAP actually is (the already initiated may skip forward to the next section).
An EAP is an employer-paid resource for employees to help with a variety of problems or obstacles in their life. Through an employee assistance program, employees can be connected to professionals who can assist across a variety of subject matters, including:
- Family, financial, career, and legal issues
- Critical incidence and mental health
- Health and fitness coaching, nutrition support, and naturopathic advice
- Developing effective work habits
- Specific challenges as people leaders
Is your workplace using EAPs to their fullest potential?
Unlike some other types of employee benefits, EAPs charge a set amount per employee every month, regardless of usage history. This means that whether one employee or 100 employees use the EAP services available to them, the employer still pays the same amount. However, according to Benefits Canada, only 11% of employees with EAPs make use of them. Why?
There may be a wide range of reasons for why employees are underutilizing their EAPs: the stigma around mental health concerns and reaching out for help, a concern that their employer can track their usage and other privacy concerns, a belief that EAP services are limited to crisis-related situations only, and oftentimes, just a general lack of knowledge about their EAP and how it can be used (or even that it exists).
According to various studies, EAPs can yield $1.50 to $16 in savings for each dollar invested, with average savings of $3 to $5.
How to promote your EAP to your employees
1. Educate existing employees
The reality is that your employees can’t use your EAP if they don’t know it exists. And a vague knowledge that some kind of employee support system exists simply isn’t enough to get employees to use it, either.
Consider holding an annual informal presentation to educate and remind your employees about your EAP and field questions that they may have surrounding it; you can even turn it into an internal Lunch and Learn. The session can be led by your company’s HR administrator if they are comfortable with the information. Alternatively, perhaps a representative from the EAP provider can attend or even host a webinar for your team. This is an ideal time to go over what an EAP is, what kind of services it provides, and the other “whats” and “hows” associated with using and accessing their EAP.
2. Inform new hires
Similar to the point above, new hires within the company should also be informed of the resources they have available to them at your organization (this can even be something that your company advertises to job applicants). Consider including information about your EAP in their onboarding package, or via a separate communication once their probation period is over.
3. Emphasize confidentiality
As an employer-sponsored program, employees may be concerned about a potential lack of privacy. They may worry that their employer will be able to see their individual usage and the services they have accessed. This is not true! While employers can see figures relating to general usage (i.e. number of employees using the EAP and its services), names and other associated personal details are confidential between the employee and the EAP provider/counsellor.
4. Communicate accessibility
Support and help for your employee is only a call away, and it doesn’t have to be limited to emergency or crisis situations, either. Many employees who don’t take advantage of the resources available to them may be under the impression that their situations aren’t dire enough to qualify for EAP services. In other cases, they may just be unsure of how to access these services.
Employees should have access to the EAP contact information without having to go through others, such as an HR representative, which may disincentivize them to reach out. Do share this information with your employees so they have it on hand, either during your EAP presentation should you decide to hold one, or via other means. You may even wish to post this information in a public place, such as the office lunch room.
It’s a common misconception amongst employees that EAPs are reserved for emergency situations only. Therefore someone who may certainly benefit from support on matters that may not be seen as “emergencies” such as budgeting, caregiving issues, or job burnout may not know that these services extend to them.
A 2011 study done by Morneau Shepell showed that EAP use among employees led to a 34% cost reduction in productivity-related costs for employers.
At the end of a day, an EAP’s value is based on the fact that employees know about it and use it. Fostering a healthy, wellness-centric workplace with satisfied employees (both in and outside of work!) ultimately ensures that employees can focus on tackling challenging projects while staying productive, and lowers employee turnover.