Providing for employees' health care needs has been a benefits standard in businesses for many years, but more recently, companies have come to understand that it's equally important to tend to other aspects of their employees' well-being.1 Stress, mental health issues, financial problems and conflict at home all can affect how well a worker focuses and how productive they are.

An employee assistance program, or EAP, is one benefit to consider that can help your employees better manage stresses and problems – both at home and on the job. Understanding what EAPs can do and how your business may benefit from implementing one can help you decide whether this solution is right for your company.

What EAPs can do for you (and your employees)

EAPs are designed to help your employees privately manage personal problems that could affect their work performance.2 These programs often provide counseling and other mental health services. In some cases, they can even include legal assistance, adoption assistance and nurse advice lines.3 When an employer offers these services, the plans may also be available to the employees' children, spouses or non-marital partners living in the same household.

EAPs are offered at no cost to employees, and the services are typically delivered in one of the following ways:

  • Telephone consultations
  • Video-based counseling
  • Online chats or email interactions
  • Face-to-face appointments

The way employees receive services depend on the provider. One of the key features of an EAP is that it's entirely confidential, which means employees are more likely to use and benefit from the program.4 Research shows that companies that provide EAPs enjoy lower turnover rates, and they have fewer group health insurance claims, fewer mental health claims and as much as a 30% reduction in workers' compensation claims. In addition, companies report better morale, which directly affects and improves productivity.5

Consider an EAP for your business

There are several reasons to consider implementing an EAP. One of the biggest is that it can keep employees' personal issues from impacting not just their own performance, but also the overall environment of your workplace. With an EAP, employees feel empowered to address issues before they become too serious. These programs can also help you retain valuable employees.

Whether you offer an EAP is a subjective business choice that may involve assessing finances and company culture. As you're considering an EAP, it helps to familiarize yourself with the different types of models. According to the Employee Assistance Trade Association, EASNA, you can choose an internal management model in which the resources are staffed and facilitated from within your organization. In external types, you purchase services from EAP providers. You can also opt for a blend of internal and external services.6
For small businesses, the external model often makes logistical sense. If your business is larger, meet with human resources personnel and other stakeholders in the company to discuss which type of approach may work best for your business.

Today, about 77% of all companies offer EAPs to their employees. Depending on the size and location of your company, the cost to you may range from $10 to $100 per employee per year. The smaller your company, the more you can expect to pay, but the average overall price per employee is about $35.7

According to EASNA, purchasing an EAP is an investment that can pay off for your company. The association reports that for every dollar an employer spends on an EAP, there's an ROI of $3 or more.8

How to choose an EAP

Your EAP should meet employee needs, so you'll first need to decide which services you want to provide. If you have an older workforce, you might look at providing counseling related to retirement planning and financial advice. If you have younger workers who are starting families, you might gear resources towards health and childcare issues. Asking your employees what they'd like to see in an EAP is an effective way to get their input and discover what's most important to them.

After you've narrowed down which services are important for your company, you can begin evaluating plans. Form a committee that includes HR, managers or other company leaders to help review plans and costs. Find out how the EAP delivers services, and make sure they're a good fit for your employees.9

Finally, once you've found a provider you're interested in, take a closer look at its history and track record. Examine how long it's been in business, what type of professionals it uses for service providers, what kind of ratings it gets from users and other factors that may influence your decision.10 You can also talk with other business leaders to get referrals about providers they recommend.

As with all employee benefits, choose an EAP that provides value to your workers. Carefully evaluating employees' needs and matching them with the right plan benefits you, your workers and your company's bottom line.

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