Increasing Employee Assistance Program Effectiveness and Utilization: New Approaches and Emerging Trends
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are offered at 97% of large employers.1 However, studies show that only 5% of employees use them annually2; for National Business Group on Health members, the EAP utilization rate is 8%.3 EAPs are work-based intervention programs designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal or work-related issues that could adversely affect their productivity. EAPs offer many benefits. For employers, they can help reduce overall health care claims, workers’ compensation and disability costs.4,5 For employees, EAPs can reduce the impact of mental health disorders, workplace stress and other work/life issues.6 Studies show that EAPs produce an ROI of $3-$10 for every $1 invested.7
Despite the benefits of EAPs, low engagement rates mean employers are struggling to demonstrate how the program provides value. In response, new trends are driving changes in EAP design and delivery to better support many aspects an employee’s life. This document gives a broad overview of the current state of EAPs, as well as new approaches and emerging trends for creating a highly effective program.
Current State of EAPs
EAP services are usually 100% paid by the employer. Typically, they are made available to all employees, immediate family members and unrelated people living in their home. A typical program provides 6-8 counseling sessions and an unlimited number of telephonic sessions.8 An EAP can be a separate benefit or integrated with behavioral health benefits or the health plan. Regardless of the services offered, EAPs can be managed internally or externally; however 87% of large employers in the U.S. outsource their EAPs.9 It usually includes several core services, as shown in Table 1.10
Top Tactics to Increase Utilization
The following tactics can help employers drive EAP utilization and create a more effective program. These promising approaches are based on case studies and new tools being implemented by employer leaders and their vendor partners.
- Ensure that EAP providers have a minimum standard of qualifications and use evidence-based approaches.
- Customize EAP delivery based on employees’ preferences and needs.
- Deploy professional health assistants and concierge services: position the EAP as a pathway to other health and wellness benefits.
- Consider financial incentives.
- Recruit support from senior leaders.
- Increase EAP awareness and engagement through proven communication tactics.
- Measure the impact of EAP services on employee performance, absenteeism and other business outcomes.
- Position managers to be advocates.
- Integrate the EAP across programs.
- Leverage the EAP as a resource for identifying/mitigating organizational issues in the work environment.
For additional information on EAP programs including average program cost, additional tactics to increase utilization and an in-depth analysis of each tactic see the Full Report for members of the National Business Group on Health.
- National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments. Employer investments in improving employee health: results from the fifth annual National Business Group on Health/Fidelity Investments Benefits Consulting survey. https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/bdf7866d-782b-cb6e-2763-182a7a686dd5. Published 2014. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments. Employer investments in improving health: results from the fourth annual National Business Group on Health/Fidelity Investments Benefits Consulting survey.
- National Business Group on Health. Global employee assistance programs. Survey Report. http://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/0ffad40b-782b-cb6e-2763-6bcabe78a271. Published 2014. Accessed August 25, 2014.
- https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/befd14fa-782b-cb6e-2763-cfc53306fcad. Published 2013. Accessed May 20, 2014.Blum T, Roman P. Cost-Effectiveness and Preventive Implications of Employee Assistance Programs. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 1995.
- Collins KM. Cost/benefit analysis shows EAP’s value to employer. EPA Exchange. 1998;28(12):16-20.
- Merrick ES, Volpe-Vartania J, Horgan CM, et al. Revisiting employee assistance programs and substance use problems in the workplace: key issues and research agenda. Psychiatric Services. 2007;58(10):1262-1264.
- Attridge M, Amaral T, Bjornson T, et al. EAP effectiveness and ROI. EASNA Research Notes. http://www.easna.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/EASNA-Research-Notes-No-3-ROI-NOV12010.pdf. Published 2009. Accessed January 8, 2015.
- Taranowski C, Mahieu KM. Trends in employee assistance program implementation, structure and utilization, 2009 to 2010. J Behav Health. 2013;28(3):172-191.
- National Business Group on Health. Wellness staffing and administration. Survey Report. https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/4deeb9a6-782b-cb6e-2763-eefc4da7d6d2. Published 2014. Accessed June 20, 2014.
- National Business Group on Health. An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs: Recommendations for Strategically Defining, Integrating and Measuring Employee Assistance Programs. https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/pub/f31372a2-2354-d714-51e4-ae4127ced552. Published 2008. Accessed June 20, 2014.