Employee assistance programs were originally created to address alcoholism and drug use in the workplace.
These programs have since matured to address a broad range of issues that can affect all aspects of employee performance and engagement. From the misuse of drugs and alcohol to stress, anxiety, sleep disorders and depression, they take on “virtually every problem an employee could have,” said Gregory DeLapp, CEO of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association.
This evolution has also changed who runs the programs, he added. In the beginning, most EAP leaders came to the role through the training department or because of their own recovery. But today, most EAP professionals have a social work background or mental health training.
“It reflects what’s being offered and when,” he said.
Today, mental health is a leading driver of EAP investments and the services provided, and thanks to the growing social dialog about depression and anxiety, employees are more open to taking advantage of these offerings, said Barbara Veder, vice president of employee support solutions for Morneau Shepell, an HR technology and consulting firm in Toronto. “That leads to more early engagement, which is always the focus for EAPs.”
She noted that stress, depression and anxiety are among the top reasons why employees access EAP services, and she encourages employers to provide tools and services that help employees to be more proactive in their mental health care. These may include online assessments to gauge risks, rapid access to counseling rather than waiting weeks for an appointment, and wellness apps and self-directed programs to help “get people back to their best selves,” she said.
On the employer side, EAP providers are offering more data and analytics to help them understand whether these programs are being used, and what impact they may have on the business. “Having access to meaningful data allows employers to tailor their programs to the needs of the workforce,” Veder said. It isn’t just about gauging whether employees use these services. Good metrics also help them understand what intervention types are most appealing and how their use breaks down among employee groups. “A lot of people want to take ownership of their care, while others respond better to human interventions,” she said.
DeLapp noted that companies should be sure the data they are getting demonstrate actual business impact. “So much of what is sold today is based on measures of activity, like number of therapy visits, or calls to a call center,” he said. He argued that employers should be asking for outcome measures that demonstrate results.
Workplace Outcome Suite Impact
Many benefits leaders are finding this kind of data through the annual “Workplace Outcome Suite” report developed by Chestnut Global Partners, which uses workplace surveys to demonstrate the effectiveness of EAPs in business terms related to absenteeism, presenteeism, work engagement, workplace distress and life satisfaction. For example, the most recent WOS annual report found that before implementing an EAP program, companies saw an average of 10.92 hours of work missed over a 30-day period due to mental health related issues; after the implementation, it dropped to 5.64 hours — or an improvement of 48 percent. “It helps employers anticipate what impact an EAP will have on the business,” DeLapp said.
While EAPs are often considered separate from other benefits programs, it is also important to find synergies between EAPs and benefits offerings, he said. For example, financial pressures can cause stress and anxiety, so offering financial planning services, student debt repayment and other voluntary financial benefits can have the knock-on effect of easing workplace anxiety. “It’s an interesting dichotomy that should be considered when crafting any EAP program.”