By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 13 May 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. David Miles

The type of support provided by an organization to its employees can have a significant impact on individual well-being and performance. Employee support can be an important aspect of drug-free workplace policies and can help in managing issues relating to substance use, mental and physical health, family, and finances.

Providing Employee Support: Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

The importance of employee support

Providing support to employees can help prevent and manage personal issues, such as phsycial or mental health, which can impact the workplace environment and productivity. Without appropriate support, issues that could potentially be resolved may go unnoticed or unmanaged, leading to more severe issues and effects within the workplace.

Employee support can improve the morale, health, and well-being of the individual and have a positive impact on their work performance. Managing and supporting employees with these aspects of their personal lives can lead to a reduction in work-related anxieties, absences, illnesses, and accidents. [1][2]

What are Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a range of services that the employer can provide as an employee benefit to help individuals manage difficulties that impact their work. This might include substance use issues, family or relationship difficulties, mental and physical health issues, and financial or legal issues. [3]

The cost of the EAP is typically covered by the employer, making these programs easily accessible and available to the employee and their family members whenever they might need support. EAPs can help identify problem areas, recognize how the individual’s well-being and work performance are impacted, and provide a suitable framework for managing these issues.

This might include counseling provided by the EAP or being referred to services and healthcare providers for other appropriate interventions. It may also include an evaluation or review process, which can help monitor the employee’s progress, highlighting areas that are improving or require further intervention.

Benefits of EAPs

Various studies have investigated the effect of EAPs on well-being, performance, and financial benefits. Both the employer and employee can benefit from these programs. For example, with EAPs: [1][2][3][4]

  • Employees feel supported and appreciated, which can improve their morale and work ethic, thereby improving productivity.

  • Employees may be less likely to be absent, experiencing fewer illnesses and personal difficulties, or feeling more equipped to manage these issues.

  • Employee confidentiality can be maintained, allowing professional relationships between employees and employers to remain intact, while the employee communicates with EAP professionals about their issues. This can prevent judgment or harmful attitudes from employers toward the employee.

  • Employees can avoid a potential fear of approaching management with sensitive issues, which can lead to them seeking help sooner and receiving earlier interventions. This can prevent issues from becoming more severe and having further impact on personal well-being and professional performance.

  • Management can be supported in dealing with challenging issues, either with legal and professional advice or by handing over to EAP professionals to provide appropriate intervention.

These benefits can result in reduced time and cost spent by the employer when managing issues, improved professional relationships, better psychological well-being of employer and employee, and improved performance within the workplace.

Types of EAPs

There are various types of EAPs, including: [5]

  • Internal (in-house) programs: This type of EAP is typically chosen by companies with a large number of employees concentrated in a small area. Internal programs include EAP professionals onsite to provide in-person services to employees. These professionals might be hired directly within the company or through an external EAP organization to be based within the workplace.

  • External programs: This type of EAP is typically chosen by companies whose employees are spread over a larger area. Employees and their family members can use a phoneline to contact EAP specialists who will refer them to an appropriate provider within their geographical area who can deliver supportive services.

  • Blended programs: This type of EAP may be beneficial for a company with one location with a high number of employees and several other locations with smaller concentrations of employees. This includes an in-house EAP professional and a phoneline that can be contacted to find nearby service providers.

  • Management-sponsored programs: These programs are solely sponsored by management, rather than unions or a combination of the two. Services can vary and might focus on drug and alcohol issues, physical and mental health, referrals, or health enrichment activities.

  • Member Assistance Programs (MAP): MAPs can offer various services, including employee and family welfare issues, mental and physical healthcare, or issues with the workplace environment. These programs are provided by a union and can help identify issues, refer to appropriate services, and provide prevention and counseling services.

  • Peer-based programs: These programs involve employee-led education and training, including assistance and referrals with psychological well-being. This type of program requires appropriate training to be provided to all involved employees.

How to select the right EAP

The right EAP for the company will vary depending on different factors, such as the type and size of the organization and service needs. It can be helpful to discuss with EAP providers about the following:

  • Accessibility: Where will the EAP be based and at what times can employees access services?

  • Training: Are training and education provided to employees and supervisors, including support training?

  • Support: Are counseling and support services included for employees? How and to which services are referrals made?

  • Costs: Which services are included in the fixed fee and what are the costs of additional services?

  • Assessments: Will the organization be assessed to determine specific EAP needs? Will the program be evaluated for effectiveness and success at regular intervals or is a system provided to support employers with this?

  • Organization information: Give information to the EAP to ensure appropriate services are provided, such as policies and benefits within the organization relating to health or drug and alcohol issues, preferred budget, required EAP services, type and environment of the workplace, and number of employees and family members requiring services.

Costs and set up of EAPs

When setting up an EAP, the organization should be clear on its budget and specific needs, including additional services that may be required, such as policy planning, training sessions, educational resources, and legal advice. It is beneficial to have an understanding of:

  • Program fees and a breakdown of service costs

  • What work is provided by the EAP and what potential timeframes for completion

  • Who is providing specific work or services and their qualifications

  • What can be expected with the EAP and how results are evaluated

Typically, EAPs are provided at a fixed fee, with a price calculated per employee per month. The overall cost will vary depending on the program type, services provided, and number of times an employee can access certain services. Reports show a standard fee for EAPs can range from $12 to $40 per employee per year. [4]

Add-on services can be included which may incur additional costs. This might include services such as crisis intervention, substance use evaluation, and mental health debriefings.

It can be a good idea to contact various EAP providers to discuss fees, payment plans, and available services within a certain budget.

EAP resources

Employee Assistance Society of North America (EASNA)

American Psychiatric Association Center for Workplace Mental Health

International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration EAP Prescription Drug Toolkit