How an Employee Assistance Program Can Help Your Employees Thrive

February 18, 2019

Employee Assistance Programs offer differentiated and affordable benefits
Kip Soteres

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) support employees facing work and life challenges, including employee wellness. Employers often include an EAP as part of their standard benefits package. A good EAP might leverage a wide variety of confidential resources including interactive webinars, on-demand videos, call lines, automated assessments and libraries of intranet articles.

Employee Assistance Programs started largely as third-party psychological support for employees under duress. Over time, services have expanded to include a growing array of topics, like general employee wellness and health, fitness, pet care, work-life balance, stress management, psychological and legal needs, marital counseling, grief assistance, financial advice, nicotine and alcohol cessation programs, and other resources for various forms of substance abuse.

Several large organizations specialize in off-the-shelf EAP programming, and the field is becoming increasingly crowded as competition intensifies around this growing industry. Overall revenues for 2016 were $4B annually. CompEAP and the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) indicate that roughly three-quarters of all employers now offer some level of EAP support and that number continues to rise year over year.

Efficient Services To Meet a Wide Range of Employee Needs

Employee Assistance Programs are a relatively easy and affordable way to meet a broad range of employee needs. SmallFitBusiness advises that employers should be able to find an adequate level of EAP coverage at about $35 per employee, although that price may vary greatly depending on regional cost of living differences and the number of employees in your organization.

Scope of Services Can Introduce Communication Challenges

In exchange, employers get a one-size-fits-all buffet of benefit offerings. In fact the range of services is so broad, one of the biggest challenges can be getting employees to take advantage of them. The National Business Group on Health cites studies showing utilization rates at around 5 percent among large employers.

The growing list of services offered through an EAP means that employees may be confused by competing vendor offerings. An EAP may offer wellness programs and rewards distinct from your health insurer and additional incentives offered directly by the employer or other affiliated wellness vendors. Similarly, your EAP program may offer financial advice and services competing with tax advisory services or 401k plan vendors.

Visuals, including simple, clear charts and holistic communication about offered services, is critical to helping employees understand their EAP benefits and navigate them successfully.

The sheer volume of EAP offerings can be overwhelming to employees. Communicate EAP benefits across the year, highlighting different aspects of the program at different times. Time those communications to coincide with themes like New Year's resolutions in the winter, tax season in the spring or skin protection as summer approaches.

Expanded EAP Offerings Can Engage Employee Curiosity

It's likely that your employees don't think of an EAP as a place to get college loan advice, a list of healthy recipes in support of employee wellness or guidance on how to deal with a difficult coworker. Adoption services, long-term care resources and legal support are also usually a surprise to employees. Use these unique benefits as hooks to draw employees to the range of resources available through the EAP and increase utilization.

Meeting the Needs and Expectations of Younger Employees

As the number of millennials in the workforce continues to grow, benefits are trending away from retirement offerings and toward employee wellness, broadly defined as mental, physical and financial health. Just the kinds of offerings that come part and parcel with many of the larger Employee Assistance Program vendors.

Such offerings are often quite economical and, when well-communicated, offer tremendous value to employees who are made aware of the growing number of services that can be bundled under an EAP umbrella. Capture the value of that offering by supporting strong utilization, and you will be well on your way to a solution that your employees will value and view as a differentiated benefit.

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