To ensure your employees are getting help when they need it, one benefit you should strongly consider offering is an employee assistance program.
Your employees are the foundation of your company. They can make or break your success, which is why having an employee assistance program, which helps workers who are struggling with certain personal issues, is good business. Before you offer an EAP, it is important to understand what it entails, its benefits and how to implement one in your business.
What is an employee assistance program (EAP)?
An EAP, as defined by the Society for Human Resource Management, is "a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee's performance."
These are some of the common problems an EAP can help employees with:
- Stress management
- Domestic violence at home or at work
- Grief counseling
- Crisis management
- Psychological (mental health) disorders
As EAPs have continued to evolve, some employers offer extended coverage that may include support with financial challenges, family issues, workplace violence, elder care and child care issues.
What are the benefits of an EAP?
One of the reasons for an EAP's popularity is that it's a mutually beneficial program for employers and employees.
How an EAP benefits employers
Your employees being mentally and physically healthy is in your best interest as an employer. Research has found a link between employee happiness and productivity: Happy employees are 13% more productive. Healthy employees are also more productive and take fewer sick days. Thus, these are some of the direct benefits an EAP can have:
- Employees arriving to work on time
- Employees taking less time off
- Higher employee retention, which saves costs in recruiting and hiring replacement staff
- Better work performance overall by staff
- Fewer health insurance claims being filed on the employee health plan
- Fewer disability claims being filed
- Fewer labor disputes
- Fewer accidents in the workplace
- Fewer workers' compensation claims
- Employees who are more engaged in the company and their jobs
How an EAP benefits employees
Some of the benefits of an EAP for employers overlap with employee benefits. These are some additional benefits for employees:
- The feeling that their employer cares about them
- Decreased anxiety at work and home
- More willingness or even excitement to go to work
- Direct and quick access to experts who can provide the support they are looking for
- Convenient access to a 24/7 hotline
How an EAP works and what it offers
An EAP is free to employees. While they can take advantage of it if they like, participation in an EAP can't be mandated by employers and is completely voluntary. Employers do, however, pay for these programs, and usage is highly encouraged. The cost of an EAP varies, typically from $10 to $100 per employee per year.
When an employee or their family uses the program, an EAP specialist determines their needs to direct them to the best resource. Employees should feel comfortable that the information they share will remain confidential. Employers are not privy to any information on which employees are using the program or how often they do so. Employers can receive reports showing that the program is being used; they just won't know who specifically is doing so.
Requirements for an EAP
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there are critical requirements that all EAPs need to offer and provide for.
Written confidentiality policies
To ensure the use of the program remains confidential for all employees, as the employer, you need to create and implement a written confidentiality policy.
An appropriate number of staff needs to be trained on the policies surrounding the program, including the formal procedures for monitoring the program and following up with employees who use it. Training also needs to include how employers can recognize issues so that they can appropriately direct employees to the EAP. As services and employee needs evolve, it's essential to ensure that employees maintain and upgrade their skills pertaining to the EAP.
Scope and limitations of services policy
It is recommended for every company offering an EAP to have a written policy that covers the program's relationship to the organization and what the scope and limitations of services entail. The goal of this policy is to get all parties on the same page as to how the program works and how it should be used.
The advisory process ensures that the employer and key staff are represented. The advisory board should reflect the diversity of your employee base as much as possible.
As employees' needs change, the EAP should be able to accommodate them by adding services.
24/7 crisis intervention services
One of the benefits of an EAP is that employees can access it 24/7, so employers need to make sure this service offering is in place.
Short-term problem resolution procedures
There may be situations where employees need resolutions to short-term problems. The EAP needs to have protocol in place to outline those problems and their resolution procedures, including when an employee needs to be referred to a resource outside the EAP.
For internal programs, a qualified staff member needs to be assigned to manage the program. This assigned staff member needs to be trained accordingly and responsive to employee needs.
Legal and regulatory compliance
Since a common service offering of an EAP is mental health, employers need to adhere to legal and regulatory compliance. As part of this training, understanding legal concerns surrounding service areas such as mental health is key. It's also good practice for employers to understand other legal considerations of an EAP to adhere to all compliance protocols.
There needs to be a policy in place that outlines the intention of the program, such as that it provides confidential and voluntary assistance to employees and their family. Think of this policy as a mission statement for the EAP.
Services that cater to all applicable languages and cultures
The services an EAP provides can't have a language barrier or discriminate against cultures. Services must be sensitive to each employee's language and culture. Along with these services, any materials that you use to promote the EAP should be understandable to all your employees.
Different ways to access service
While phone counseling tends to be the most popular option, it should not be the only way services are provided.
Custom data reporting
This reporting offers employers key information about the program, such as if any employees threatened to harm themselves or someone else and how many employees are using the program. Customized data reporting can also track patterns and trends in usage. The data on the reports remains confidential.
Suggestions for an EAP offering
Michael Roche, co-founder and head of recruitment at Educating Abroad, has more than 10 years of recruitment and HR management experience managing and implementing new initiatives. He said an EAP can provide a wide range of assistance types to your employees, including discount vouchers for counseling and drug and alcohol abuse support.
"It is advisable to identify what is actually important to your employees rather than just guessing," Roche said. "You will find a lot more uptake in the benefit, which should result in improved productivity or morale within the business – the main goals of an EAP. You could use the fact-finding part of what your employees want from such a service as the start of the promotion of the new employee benefit which is soon to become available. Think of it like the release of a new mobile phone when they tease features before a launch."
How to offer an EAP to employees
There are three main ways to offer an employee assistance program: in-house, outsourced or blended. For smaller companies that don't have the resources to host an EAP in-house, outsourcing is recommended.
Like its name suggests, hosting an in-house EAP means that qualified employees manage the program and offer benefits on-site. It's the job of an in-house EAP professional to provide employees with direct services or referral resources.
An in-house service can feel more intimidating to employees who may be embarrassed to ask for help, worry that their information will not be kept confidential, and feel uncomfortable seeing these employees around the office. As a result, in-house services often don't get as much use as external programs do.
Employees can access an outsourced EAP by calling a toll-free phone number. An EAP specialist will answer calls and ask employees a few questions to verify their employer and location, then find out what the employee needs support for so that the specialist can recommend the best resources.
Through a blended program, employees have the option to seek assistance in-house or via toll-free phone number. A blended program is not recommended for small businesses with limited resources.
How an EAP is implemented
According to Roche, these are the main steps to implement an EAP:
- Budget: Identify and confirm the budget for the new program. Figure this out by per-employee fee to get a better sense of how much you are prepared to spend.
- Services: Identify the services your employees would benefit from.
- Provider: Choose an EAP provider. Make sure to check its service-level agreement, as these vary considerably. Also, ask fellow business owners and HR professionals who use EAPs which providers have been good for them.
- Promotion: Use the time between choosing your EAP provider and launching the program to start promoting your new benefits.
- Training: Ensure key people, managers and department heads have been trained on the program so it runs smoothly when unveiled.
- Launch: Consider launching the new benefit at special event, such as a company gala, team day out or end-of-year party.
- Maintenance: You should periodically review your EAP. Keep in touch with employees on what they think and what they would like improved.
Ways to promote an EAP
No one benefits from an EAP if your employees don't know about it. In addition to launching it at a company event like Roche suggested, here are some ways to promote your program:
- Hang up posters around the office, especially in the break room.
- Post information on your company's intranet.
- Send companywide emails.
- Mail postcards to employees' family.
- Make an announcement at quarterly employee meetings.
- Write about it in employee newsletters.