An introduction to EAPs

What is the definition of an EAP?

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is a work-based programme which can identify and help resolve employee concerns which may affect work performance.

An EAP should include a mechanism for providing counselling and other forms of assistance, advice and information to employees to recognised standards (for example, through a telephone helpline) on a systematic and uniform basis.

According to IRS Employment Review’s 2009 survey of EAPs, the main features are:

  • A telephone helpline providing information on a wide range of issues, and acting as an initial self-referral point (88% of employers that provide an EAP).
  • Face-to-face counselling, usually involving a limited number of sessions (85%).
  • Counselling offered over the telephone (82%).
  • Reports by the EAP provider to the client employer about service usage, including the main issues raised by users (79%).
  • Referrals to specialist advisers, for example on legal, tax and health issues (65%).
  • An advice line for line managers to help them handle difficult situations at work (54%).
  • A website that provides information resources about a range of issues of potential interest to EAP users (51%).

What are the advantages of an EAP as an employee benefit?

An EAP is tax exempt as long as it is connected to the emotional wellbeing of the employee, and is available to all staff. On the other hand, formal legal advice and representation is taxable.  Unlike some other employee benefits, an EAP is a direct benefit to the employer as well. Because it supports strategic workforce management goals the EAP can be a key tool in maintaining productivity, performance and public perception of the employer. According the a survey by IRS Employment Review in 2009, EAPs typically cost £8.80 per employee a year.

Why are EAPs attractive to employees?

All employees operate at a number of levels.  They have a home life, work, hobbies, family, relationships, hopes, fears and frustrations, and sometimes it is difficult to juggle all of these successfully.  Employees who have accessed an EAP report that they value the opportunity to talk to a professional and impartial service whilst maintaining their privacy and confidentiality. 

In addition most employees are keen to remain in employment and look for sources of support to achieve this.  At times of organisational disruption an employee will turn to the EAP for help and advice, allowing them to maintain a dignified presence at work.

Why are they attractive to employers?

An EAP will assist employees and managers in dealing with situations that can adversely affect performance at work.  It provides additional support to the HR function as day-to-day people management is increasingly devolved to line managers, because the availability of EAP services helps the organisation to access providing timely advice and management support. 

Providing an EAP for staff also helps to meet the employer’s duty of care. It  provides an impartial partner when managing conflicts at work, enhances an organisation’s reputation, improves employee retention, can give valuable information to assist the employer in handling specific issues and can provide additional streams of information to compliment an organisation’s own intelligence and data gathering.

How do you decide if an EAP is the right solution?

Once you have carried out a stress audit or carried out focused research into the issue of stress in your organisation you will be in a position to decide whether an EAP will meet your needs. But be advised that deciding that an outside provider might help is only the first step – EAPs vary widely in terms of their size, remit and cost. An audit of your organisational need must be followed by an equally thorough review of the market.


How do you assess whether there is a need for employee advice in your organisation?

Mike Dyos, Head of EAP services at Right Corecare comments: “Research consistently shows that any workforce reports a measurable amount of emotional and practical life problems amongst it.  Management tend to say they recognise this in other workforces but that their own workforce is somehow different.  In a way the question isn’t so much ‘how do you assess the need?’, it is how you address the unspoken need.

“Quantifiable measures are evidence of absenteeism and sickness, fall in production, general malaise, inter-personal issues, change management, lack of engagement and commitment, talent drift, difficulty in recruitment.

“If you have the infrastructure that will allow your employees to call you 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and receive advice, information and counselling then you have no need of the EAP solution.  If on the other hand you recognise that your organisation and the people in it would benefit from this facility then an EAP is the only service that can provide this.

“In the UK it has been estimated that approximately 10% of the total workforce has access to an EAP and this ratio is growing. Ever since a Court of Appeal hearing in the late 1990s (Sutherland v Hatton [2002] IRLR 263 CA) stated that an organisation that provides confidential counselling and access to treatment has gone a long way towards meeting its duty of care, employers have increasingly turned to EAPs to help them achieve this.”

Source: the Employee Assistance Professionals Association and Right Corecare.

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