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July 17, 2023

What is an EAP?

In recent years, the binary understanding of sickness and health has given way to a more holistic concept of overall well-being. That means taking care of your employees is no longer limited to wages and sick days.

Even if they’re not ill in the “traditional” sense, your employees may still be physically or mentally affected by various circumstances. After what we all experienced during the pandemic lockdown, mental illness and personal well-being has become a greater focus. 

We learned that it's not just illness that impacts productivity in the workplace. It’s a slew of factors, from mental health to family life to traumatic experiences and career changes.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) address those issues by giving employers the services and tools they need to support their employees.

What Is an EAP?

An EAP is an employee benefits program that goes beyond immediate medical issues like dental care and vision. EAP services aim to help employees resolve issues that may affect their lives, working towards reducing stressors and contributing to overall productivity and a better work environment.

These days, an EAP program can cover a wider range of problems than before, whether an employee needs assistance after a career change due to a personal dilemma or a mental health issue. Since an EAP specialist doesn’t address only one problem like mental health care anymore, the counseling service offered can take many forms, such as consulting, educational content, or phone support.

The Importance of EAPs

EAPs offer a range of benefits for employers and employees, all with a focus on creating a better office culture.

At a basic level, EAPs provide a confidential and trustworthy resource for employees to address mental health concerns affecting their daily lives. Included services may range from counseling and educational resources on mental health to therapy sessions. 

Since employees face many issues that aren’t strictly related to mental health, EAPs also cover assistive services that address work-life balance. Topics addressed include stress management, family crises such as eldercare concerns, and financial education.

The most important benefit for employees is that they can open up in a safe and confidential environment to address their problems and not hide them for fear of disadvantage or prejudice.

This allows the counselors to offer ongoing support and intervene early. It can prevent problems from escalating before they affect your team permanently or impact employee morale and productivity at the office. Recent polls suggest that employees increasingly consider their employers’ care for well-being among the top criteria during applications.

The initial investment in EAPs generally pays off for employers. They can contribute to reduced absenteeism and mitigate workplace conflicts that might otherwise lead to higher employee turnover rates and increased recruitment and training costs.

The positive workplace culture resulting from EAPs can contribute to your employer branding. Systematic contributions like these position you as a company that values its employees’ health and happiness. This can boost your team’s morale and give them a sense of belonging.

How EAPs Work

What EAP is right for your organization will ultimately come down to a number of factors. First, you’ll want to determine which internal resources you can allocate to managing your services. While you can directly manage an internal or a hybrid EAP, that requires a long-term commitment and the expertise to support those programs for years to come. With an internal EAP or a hybrid solution, your HR personnel will directly manage your employees’ requests, requiring you to commit to the right infrastructure and technical frameworks.

Benefit from a broad range of services, resources, industry expertise, and specialized support. A Marsh McLennan Agency consultant can help you find an EAP provider that meets your technical requirements and bottom line.

Part of that conversation will identify services you’d like to offer and what contract forms suit your business needs. You may choose a model with fixed service options or a pay-per-use arrangement depending on your requirements.

Another question that will greatly affect your employees’ experience is whether you’ll opt for an online or a telephone EAP over on-site services.

For a globally distributed workforce, you need to bridge the gap between providing flexibility while still giving your employees access to local resources. A global EAP can provide that and reliably support your team with the right data for their respective regions.

Technical and contractual frameworks aside, the most important question is whether your EAP offers direct treatment or refers your employees to other service providers. The answer will determine whether their services are regulated according to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

How Employers Can Implement an Employee Assistance Program

As with every benefits program, the first step should be assessing your employees’ needs and pain points. Your team may be different from the next one, and even if you’ve consulted the best industry research, you might be unaware of local deviations.

Ask your employees which issues worry them most. Is it a personal issue? Are they worried about their job performance? Or would they benefit from short-term counseling to cope with stress?

Documenting those unique requirements is beneficial to save costs later during your plan design. It also estimates which technical frameworks will be needed to support the amount of personalization most employees have come to expect these days.

The next step requires you to bridge the gap between vendors on the market and your employees’ most pressing needs. At the same time, you want to consider your preferred contract conditions and your budget.

It’s important to remember that this is not a one-time task. Offering an EAP requires constant reviews and benchmarking of your existing policies. It also requires thorough data analysis to ensure your employees receive the services they need and that you get the most out of your investment.

A Marsh McLennan Agency consultant can assist you in researching EAP conditions, confidentially evaluating your employee's requests, and refining and monitoring a program that suits your needs. 

Get in touch to discuss your tailored EAP strategy.

If you’d like to learn more about the latest employee health and benefits trends, check out our EH&B Trends Hub.