Employee Assistance Programmes, or EAPs, are designed to assist employees with personal, or work-related, concerns and matters that may impact their job performance or well-being, such as difficulties with mental health. The services operate as a separate body to an employer, offering free and confidential assessments, short-term counselling, referrals and follow-up services for employees. Their primary aim is to help guide employees through situations in a way that provides the individual with the necessary support to avoid a negative impact on their worklife and health.

There are numerous organisations that will provide an outsourced EAP to a company. These providers will work with the organisation throughout the engagement process to identify the individual needs of the business, and to create an appropriate service model for the organisation’s requirements.

Since their introduction to the UK, the EAP market has grown rapidly and the service is widely regarded as one of the most popular core employee benefits that organisations can provide. EAP providers can register as members of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association so long as they meet specific membership criteria. Varied models include full 24-hour support, telephone and online services, such as apps, and embedded EAP packages within an organisation.

The primary aim of an EAP is to help guide employees through situations in a way that provides the individual with the necessary support and guidance in order to avoid a negative impact on their work life and health.

Through the use of EAPs, organisations can see the following results:

  • a decrease in absence levels
  • a decrease in staff turnover
  • overall productivity boosts
  • a reduction in business expenses
  • identification of areas that are affecting employee performance, such as personal matters or bullying
  • an increase in employee engagement.

An effective EAP will work with an organisation to offer numerous options to a workforce, providing them a confidential service that they can use if struggling with personal or work-related issues. In particular, key service areas which can be offered include the following:

  • counselling - EAPs can offer a variety of counselling services, including face-to-face sessions or telephone sessions with qualified counsellors
  • advice - EAPs can act as third party advisors who can assist employees with appropriate responses to any issues, such as facilitating a strong work-life balance, or provide advice through online and digital sources, including mobile phone apps
  • training - EAPs can assist with training on a variety of areas, including managing health, managing mental health and supporting employees
  • conducting medical assessments - EAPs can conduct individual medical assessments to determine an employee’s current fitness to work and whether any medical health issues, including mental health, is affecting the employee’s performance. This assessment can help identify whether the individual may have any underlying health concerns and suggest practical methods to adjust roles or make accommodations.

When considering the appropriate provider, employers should fully evaluate the requirements of their business and whether the EAP in question will be able to understand and respond to this fully. It should be remembered that using the wrong provider may be costly to a business and result in lack of up-take, so every decision must be carefully considered.

Prices can vary, depending on which provider is selected and which services are offer. For many organisations, cost will be an important consideration however the positive cost impact of having an EAP, such as the reduction in sickness absence, should also be taken into account.  

Depending on the needs of the organisation, and whether these change, organisations may decide to change EAP providers. It is important the service is continually reviewed to ensure it remains fit for purpose.

Dependent on the specific EAP provider, the service will usually be available to all members of the workforce and their immediate family members. This is to provide support to those close to the employee whose own health and circumstances could affect the employee’s wellbeing, and subsequent work performance.

Access to the EAP will be available to employees to use on a voluntary and confidential basis. Employees should be informed that use of, or a failure to use, the service will not detrimentally impact the employee’s job security or personal development.

On the other hand, use of the EAP provisions will not prevent organisations from carrying out formal capability, disciplinary or performance management procedures, where these are deemed appropriate.  

Organisations should make arrangements with their respective EAP provider to ensure that measures are in place to safely, and securely, process employee personal data. All communication between the employees and the EAP providers are confidential, which will be advised to employees during the initial contact.

Any information that is obtained by the EAP from the employee will not be disclosed to the organisation or included within their personnel file. Organisations will find that any invoices or usage data provided by the EAP will be appropriately anonymised.

There are several steps that organisations can take to raise awareness of EAPs within the working environment. These include the following:

  • encouraging line managers to recommend the service to employees within their team
  • signposting employees to the service after critical incidents, such as workplace robberies
  • ensuring that information on the service is delivered at important events, such as inductions or during periods of organisational change
  • displaying EAP posters across the workplace and in breakout areas, such as staff rooms
  • distributing leaflets and cards to staff with all appropriate contact information.

EAPs are an effective method of improving the health and wellbeing of employees, in turn reducing sickness absence levels. However, in order to guarantee their effectiveness, organisations will need to take positive steps to ensure the EAP service is acknowledged within their employment practices and the benefits are understood. Organisations can also take steps to ensure the service is being utilised as fully as possible.

The below are examples of areas where organisations can take steps to effectively implement EAPs:

  • review internal company policies and ensure these signpost employees to utilise the EAP service where appropriate to help employee awareness of the service, for example in sickness absence, mental health and capability policies
  • ensure line managers are provided training to ensure they understand the EAP service and their associated benefits. This will help managers have conversations with team members to help raise awareness of the service, or to recommend the service as a tool of support in appropriate meetings, such as return to work interviews
  • include information on the EAP service within appropriate forms and letters, such as absence, bereavement leave and return to work letters, as a way of offering further support to employees.