HR Leads Business

May 10, 2021 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer

Launching and Managing an Employee Assistance Program

Responding to COVID-19 generated widespread awareness of the impact of mental health on employee health and performance. According to research from Unum, 85% of employers cited concerns over employees’ mental health and wellness — a concern shared by 60% of employees themselves.

Although employee assistance programs have been historically underused, the climate is right for adding and promoting these value-adding benefits. The conversation around mental health, especially within the context of the workplace, has progressed past much of the stigma employees often associate with it.

Mental health and well-being remain at the forefront of HR’s concerns, and EAP services can contribute to positive change. Here’s how to launch and manage an EAP at your organization.

Evaluate Potential Vendor Partners

What you can offer your workforce as part of your EAP depends on your vendor partner. Larger providers tend to provide more comprehensive benefits but may be cost-prohibitive for smaller organizations. Smaller providers may offer fewer options or use an a la carte model for individual services.

“An HR professional needs to understand the full scope of services available through the EAP and compare that to what employees need,” says Sharon DeLay, SPHR, CEO and Owner at BoldlyGO Career and HR Management LLC. Evaluate the services offered and determine whether they’re self-directed, like those provided free through a package (access to resources, usually), or more involved (including traditional services like counseling or legal assistance).

Ask potential providers for references from companies like yours that are using their services. “Ask for similarly positioned organizations that have had success, and then talk to them,” suggests Skye Mercer, SPHR, Virtual HR Consultant and Leadership Coach at Skye HR Consulting LLC. “What were the challenges with implementation? Are your employees using it? Has it been a positive experience?” Use their responses to help make a final decision.

Communicate Your Employee Assistance Program’s Offerings

Historically, EAP utilization rates are low, but that often results from a lack of awareness. While 93% of HR professionals state that their organization offers an EAP, almost half of employees don’t believe such an offering exists or aren’t sure. Develop a targeted communication strategy for advertising your program’s offerings. Organic exposure among employees is most effective. If an employee volunteers to share a good experience they’ve had using an EAP, that can be a powerful motivator for others.

Another reason for low utilization rates is the continued stigma surrounding mental health. Lead the conversation. “We promote programs and benefits that promote physical well-being and activity,” DeLay says. “Mental well-being needs to be handled in the same way, and an EAP is an affordable resource to back up these conversations.” Be sure to communicate that use of the program is protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, so no one will know who used it. Regularly distribute messaging that highlights EAP services through your intranet or employee newsletter.

Gauge Your Program’s ROI

The benefits of an EAP are typically indirect and can be challenging to measure. Your provider can share utilization rates and which programs are being used as aggregated data but can’t get too granular. Ask for those reports quarterly to get a better sense of usage, or use a provider that allows you to log in and pull this information as you need it.

“The biggest indirect benefit is allowing managers and supervisors to set a professional boundary with their employees,” Mercer says. If an employee performs poorly because they’re going through a complicated divorce, for instance, a manager can direct them to the EAP for mental health counseling to help them manage the stress.

Protecting workforce mental health is imperative as we continue moving through challenging times. Employee assistance programs provide a valuable resource for employees who need additional support.