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How to Use Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
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Benefits Administration

How to Use Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Especially nowadays, we talk a lot about work/life balance, but in practice, there’s often not much of a line between the two. With many companies switching to a largely remote or hybrid workforce, the line is becoming even blurrier. This means employees and their managers require additional skills to work with and manage fully remote or blended teams.

Some challenges that are characteristic of remote work include:

  • Rare in-person, face-to-face contact 
  • Reduced collaboration
  • Seclusion
  • Home office distractions
  • Enhanced challenges within existing silos

When employees work remotely and lack the spontaneous pop-by-the-cubicle or breakroom chat of the office, enhanced communication is key. In addition to individual one-on-one meetings, managers should consider conducting more frequent informal check-ins—maybe a quick 10-15 minutes one or two times a week—with the whole team just to see how everyone’s week is going.

With the increase in seclusion and isolation, work/life balance challenges and often-increased stress levels at home, managers need to keep a virtual eye out for signs of stress and burnout. They should be trained to understand that an employee’s sudden, unusual performance issues can be an indicator of the need for support. Knowing how to intercede and offer that care can be a critical difference between employee engagement and retention.

But sometimes the issues may run deeper, and a manager’s intervention might not be enough. A problem in life can easily become a problem at work or vice versa. And even though many teams are 100% virtual, that doesn’t mean employee conflict magically disappears! This is why more companies than ever before are offering the benefit of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which give workers access to mental health help, financial planning help, relationship help… you name it, they’ve probably got a specialist who can manage it. You can also find EAPs that offer assistance with childcare and eldercare, which can be especially helpful for employees who find themselves newly working from home. Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of EAP counselling.

What Is an Employee Assistance Program?

An EAP is an employee benefit program that offers various kinds of free, confidential programs  for various problems an employee may be experiencing. This assistance often comes in the form of a phone helpline, assessments and counseling. Employees may then receive referrals, short-term counseling and follow-up meetings with various professional services ranging from mental health professionals to financial services. An EAP provider can also offer therapy sessions by video, email or online chats.

Generally, an employee would voluntarily elect to use the services of an EAP, but the benefit could also be recommended by a colleague or—in disciplinary or emergency situations—extended by an employer. Employers should note that when EAPs offer employees direct counseling and treatment (rather than just supplying referrals) these are treated as a medical benefit and so are covered by ERISA and COBRA legislation.

What Are the Types of Employee Assistance Programs?

EAPs are offered to deal with a wide variety of concerns for employees, and the benefit can even be used by immediate family members. Here are a few specific issues EAPs can be used for.

Personal Problems & Mental Health Issues

Employee Assistance Programs were initially created as a workplace response to employees suffering from alcohol and other substance abuse problems that affected their work performance. These issues are still dealt with today, of course, but the offerings of EAPs have greatly expanded to also deal with depression, stress, PTSD and other conditions affecting employees’ mental health.

EAPs are often useful when an employee suffers a traumatic event such as an accident, bereavement or the diagnosis of an illness, whether personal or that of a family member. In these times, it’s important they know there’s someone who they can confidentially speak to. EAP counseling services for employees can also be a welcome resource in the event of a workplace or natural disaster.

Situational Advice

Employee Assistance Programs aren’t just useful in times of crisis, though. Help is also available for employees who find themselves saddled with financial or legal problems. EAPs can also provide expert advice on any number of issues such as childcare, eldercare or simply how to improve interpersonal relationships at home and at work.

Adopting a child is a long and stressful process, and an EAP program that has counselors who are focused on adoption assistance can be a powerful differentiator for employee retention. Similarly, companies can increase their ability to recruit and retain military veterans by offering them assistance on integrating back into the workplace after deployment.

EAPs also increasingly focus on wellness—programs are available related to stopping smoking, preventing stress and fighting obesity.

Workplace Issues

Most people think of EAPs in terms of helping people manage personal challenges or life situations as we’ve described above, but they are often used for workplace challenges as well. Employees may require counselling after an incident of workplace violence, because of burnout or due to toxic relationships with colleagues.

What Are Employee Assistance Grants?

Employee assistance grants are a separate benefit offered by many large corporations and nonprofits. These funds are designed to financially help employees who have experienced an unexpected emergency.

The Advantages of Employee Assistance Programs

EAPs give workers free, confidential help that they may have difficulty finding anywhere else. The confidential part of EAPs can be particularly attractive. After all, who wants to advertise their personal problems at work? It’s much easier and safer to reach out to a 24/7 helpline and work through personal problems in private.

EAPs are a win/win. Employees who feel taken care of, who feel they have the resources they need to tackle problems and who appreciate the fact that their organization has their best interests at heart, are going to be more engaged and they’re more likely to stick around longer and say good things about their company.

Though partnering with an EAP provider requires some investment, companies can experience financial benefits too. If assistance programs do their job, you’ll see lower medical costs over the long term and absenteeism can drop. Ultimately, your workforce will be healthier, happier and more productive.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

Does anyone hear it? The answer is no, they don’t. SHRM found the same is true for EAPs: typical utilization averages fall below 10%, and the number one driver of low usage is lack of awareness. If your company invests in an EAP benefit, talk to your broker about how to promote it. And keep in mind, different generations prefer widely different communication channels.

What does an EAP counselor do?

An EAP provides a wide variety of services focused on employee support. EAPs employ a variety of licensed counselors, such as psychologists, therapists, and substance abuse specialists. These professionals offer support in areas such as workplace conflict, trauma, anxiety and depression, substance abuse, grief management and inter-personal relationship challenges.

Who offers EAP services and how do I find them?

EAP services are offered through an employer’s benefits program. Not all companies provide this service. Most of the time, an employee is aware of the EAP and self-refers, so providing contact information in the employee handbook or easily accessible on the company portal is important. In some cases, however, a manager will make an EAP counseling session mandatory for an employee who is exhibiting behaviors that can be viewed as harmful to themselves or others. Management will set a timeline and required number of completed sessions. Often, this compulsory referral is required for continued employment.

Is EAP counseling confidential?

Yes, EAP counseling is 100% confidential and free. In the event that counselling sessions are mandated by the employer, session attendance can be verified but nothing discussed between the employee and counselor in the meeting can be communicated with managers or HR.

What types of services does an EAP benefit offer?

An EAP benefit offers wide-ranging services depending on the provider. In addition to the support in the first bullet, services can also include: employee education and training (e.g., sexual harassment, online security, etc.); personal and company-wide assessments; adoption support; and legal, financial or retirement advice.

What makes an EAP successful?

Communicating its availability is key to the success of any benefits program, but it’s especially important for an EAP. Employees are familiar with their health insurance benefits around open enrollment time, so using that time to also highlight your company’s EAP is a great idea.

How Paycor Can Help

When it comes to trusted HR expertise, turn to Paycor for help. Paycor’s HR Support Center is a comprehensive HR resource that provides organizations access to employee handbook templates, sample job descriptions, useful checklists, compliance alerts and more. Plus, dedicated support from an HR expert is always available with HR Support Center On-Demand.