Do EAPs Work?

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Does an employee assistance program (EAP) actually provide value for employers and employees? Or, is an EAPa way for employers to feel good about doing something positive for employees—that may or may not provide a value-add to employee wellness and work productivity?

Learn more about the effectiveness of EAPs.

Key Takeaways

  • EAPs are a part of a comprehensive benefits package that employers may provide for their employees.
  • In theory, they provide your employees with access to help in solving life's troubling problems.
  • EAPs are frequently, although not always, offered in conjunction with the employer’s health insurance plan.
  • EAPs play a role in an employer’s overall emphasis on employee wellness in the workplace.

What Do Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) Do in the Workplace?

EAPs provide needs assessment, help, counseling, and referrals for employees and their family members when they are faced with mental health or emotional issues. EAPs are available to assist the employee when he or she needs help dealing with life events, workplace issues, and other personal problems and challenges.

EAPs most frequently assist employees to deal with issues in these areas:

  • Alcoholism
  • Drug abuse
  • Marital difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Emotional problems
  • Legal problems

Why Do an Increasing Number of Employers Offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)?

From an employer’s standpoint, an EAP helps the employee deal with issues that might otherwise adversely impact the employee’s health and wellness, or work performance. “According to Watson Wyatt, factors such as mental health conditions, sleep problems, stigma, and substance use and abuse affect business performance by reducing productivity and increasing both planned and unplanned absences.

An EAP gives employers a referral option when managers and human resources staff are helping an employee deal with life and work issues that are beyond the training and scope of these workplace helpers.

Managers and human resources staff are generally not trained to provide therapy or counseling to employees and an EAP gives them a way to help an employee without turning away an employee in need.

More than 97% of companies in the U.S with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs. Eighty percent of companies with 1,00-5,000 employees, and 75% of companies with 251-1,000 employees have EAPs.

Are Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) Effective?

Research exists that demonstrates that EAPs are effective, although, the evidence is controversial. HR professionals experience both positive and negative word-of-mouth feedback from employees who have accessed their organizations’ EAP.

The most controversial finding is that employees may not consider an EAP a confidential service even though they are. This is especially true depending upon the service providers, of the EAPs that are provided by employers in the public sector.

These EAPs may be departments within the larger organizations and employees regard them with often warranted suspicion and skepticism. Employees are suspicious that anything they tell a counselor in an in-house EAP will go directly to the ear of related HR staff. They fear that the information will then affect their career.

Evidence of EAP Effectiveness

Generally speaking, EAPs are effective. Studies have found that EAPs improve:

  • Absenteeism
  • Job performance
  • Presenteeism
  • Depress
  • Substance use

In fact, one study noted that employee satisfaction about EAPs is "often over 90%."

Wide-ranging studies with solid control measures are not yet commonplace in EAP studies. The existing data about EAP effectiveness is limited to single organizations, in many cases.

Furthermore, a 2016 study from the Employee Assistance Research Foundation indicated that "employees receiving EAP services showed improved work functioning (reduced absenteeism and presenteeism) significantly more than well-matched comparison group of employees not receiving EAP services."

The Bottom Line

Employers have increasingly offered Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), often through their health care providers. Little evidence exists that demonstrates that EAPs are effective in serving the goal of employers to maintain productivity and healthy, well employees.

However, EAPs do give the employer an option when dealing with troubled staff members whom they are ill-equipped, and not in the business, to serve.

Consequently, the popularity of EAPs will continue to rise and the hope is that unbiased research going forward demonstrates that EAPs do, in fact, serve the best interests of employers and employees. Not just a panacea for the masses, HR professionals would like to know that EAPs actually work—or not.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are employee assistance programs trustworthy?

The data seems to indicate that employees who participate in EAPs are happy with their experience.

Are employee assistance programs therapy?

In many cases, the majority of an EAP's services will be therapy-related and address workplace, career, family, and substance abuse issues.

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