Why is an EAP no longer enough?

The world of HR, reward and benefits is in a spin. There’s a real pressure to adjust People Strategies, and to provide a robust employee benefits and reward package that fits the new normal.

Mental health and wellbeing has rightly risen dramatically up the HR agenda over the pandemic, although the topic was already on this trajectory. Employees now seek more support than ever from their employers, and searching talent looks favourably on prospective employers who provide this.  

Below, Debbie Kleiner, who runs Wellbeing In Work, provides her view of why an EAP is no longer enough. 

Why is an EAP no longer enough?
11:00- 11:45am, 24 August, 2021

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As an ex health insurance broker and now wellbeing consultant, I’ve been known to have a gripe with employee assistance programmes (EAPs). An EAP is an essential part of a Wellbeing Strategy but in this new world, it’s simply not enough. My other gripe is how under promoted EAPs often are.  The crème de la crème of EAP implementation is to include it, in it’s full glory, as part of a well structured, well researched, integrated & embedded Wellbeing Strategy.  So, let’s unpick and explore that a bit more. 

According to the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), An EAP “provides managed access to a range of experts and mental health professionals, accessed through a single entry point and via a structured assessment of need, that will provide support, guidance and information on a wide range of work related and personal issues that can affect work performance and attendance.”

These intentions are great but although not expensive compared to other employee benefits, what value can an EAP hold if it is under promoted to and under valued by, employees? Additionally, a utilised EAP can provide valuable data to inform a wellbeing strategy, perhaps showing that mental health issues are more pervasive than previously thought.  There have been many attempts at providing ROI figures for EAPs and the influential Thriving At Work study (2017) stated a return of £4.20 on every £1 spent by UK companies on mental health interventions (not just EAPs).  The EAPA report found that for every £1 spent on an EAP, the ROI is £7.27.

Around 1 in 5 adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021, an increase since November 2020, and twice more than observed before the coronavirus pandemic. The scale of the problem means it won’t suddenly disappear once people return to the office and the potential business impact is massive.  I am a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor and I teach employees to look out for their colleagues by introducing them to a MHFA framework. There are 5 steps to the easy to remember ALGEE framework. Approach, Assess, Assist, Listen non-judgementally, Give information & support, Encourage professional help and other support.

Most companies I work with have an EAP and by the end of a 4 session MHFA course, I ensure all my delegates know the ins and outs of their company plan. I also challenge them to consider how they can encourage someone to call it, if they haven’t done so themselves. They need to understand what happens on the call and what barriers their colleagues might face. Stigma can stop people from making that call as they may think that the EAP provider will share confidential information with their employer. So, EAPs often need a bit of internal PR, as well as some myth busting. 

Mental health has been at the top of the agenda during the pandemic but even though there are free tools to help companies, many fail to take it seriously for the longer term. Thankfully, many have taken it seriously during lockdowns with a massive upsurge in take up of MHFA training & provision of additional support.  

Perhaps the problem is cultural, as often an EAP is considered an HR matter and almost an ancillary function but wellbeing should be at the centre of the organisation. HR perhaps needs to take the lead and ensure wellbeing is a board priority – companies like Amba and Wellbeing in Work can give HR the evidence they need to support that business case. Senior Management will then be able to view wellbeing as a strategic pillar of productivity and aligned alongside resilience and essentially, the bottom line. 

Organisations that take mental health and wellbeing more seriously are far more likely to have more productive and stable workforce. An EAP alone isn’t taking it seriously enough.  

Interested in this topic? Sign up to our webinar – Why is an EAP no longer enough? 11:00am, 24 August, 2021.