Introduction to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Introduction

Does your organization have an Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)? Have you ever considered being part of one or using the one available at your organization? Read on to learn more about these common workplace benefits and how they can be helpful to you as a social services worker or a practicing counsellor.

EAP are fairly common in larger organizations, according to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA, n.d.):

In the US, over 97% of companies with more than 5,000 employees have EAPs. 80% of companies with 1,001 – 5,000 employees have EAPs. 75% of companies with 251 – 1,000 employees have EAPs

Despite their commonness, there are a number of articles out there discussing the notion that many employees actually fail to take advantage of the services provided by these supports. For example, Barrett (n.d.) says that only 3-5% of UK employees with access to an EAP actually use one. A Psychology Today article discussing the US landscape (Albrecht, 2014) titled “Why Don’t Employees Use EAP Services?” the author notes four barriers to employees utilizing EAP supports:

  1. They (mistakenly) don’t think it’s confidential
  2. They feel there is a stigma for accessing supports
  3. They think (mistakenly) that they need permission
  4. They don’t know the EAP exists

These barriers will need to be overcome if an organization is to see their EAP become a successful part of their benefits program.

Services Offered by EAP

There are numerous services offered by different EAP providers. For example, some of the services offered by LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell include:

  • Counselling
  • Financial Consultation
  • Legal Consultation
  • Life Coaching
  • Research

I’ll discuss some of these benefits below.

Counselling

Counselling is the resource we think of most commonly when we think of an EAP. Telephone counselling is the most popular model of delivery for this support but some EAP providers have moved to video counselling or even providing in-person counselling at a contracted rate.

This counselling support is short-term and solution-focused so that clients are given a handful of sessions in order to work on a defined goal with that counsellor. This can be especially helpful for situational events (grief, trauma, life transitions) where some extra support can help you bridge the gap.

This can be one of the most useful benefits offered by an EAP given that there is often no charge for those sessions when compared to health insurance – if your needs fit within the short-term model.

Financial Consultation

Financial consultation can be very useful for employees who are struggling with debt, bankruptcy, credit issues or even seeking investment advice. While a financial counsellor or financial planner can’t tell you what to do with your money they can help you understand the range of options available to you and give you some knowledge to help you make decisions more effectively.

Legal Consultation

Lawyers can be expensive, and although some offer free consultation you often don’t even know where to begin to locate one. Some EAPs offer legal consultation services that help you understand the gist of a legal issue and give you some awareness of things to keep in mind.

Because of conflict of interest rules, legal supports may not be able to help you with employment-related matters or if you’ve already retained an attorney – but it’s worth a shot.

Life Coaching

Life coaching is a service to help you make a plan for handling a future event. It’s a forward-looking, goal-oriented process that focuses more on behavior and less on the emotional content of a situation like in counselling.

Health Coaching is an example of specialized Life Coaching that might help you deal with weight management, stress management or quitting smoking by acting as a “cheerleader” and helping you on your road to accomplishing these goals.

Research

Research is a benefit offered by some EAPs where if you’re looking for resources like childcare they can help you locate providers in your community that are able to provide this support to you. This can help you navigate the web of services around you and better prepare yourself.

Advantages of Using an EAP

EAP services are designed to help reduce absenteeism and improve employee performance by helping you deal with personal problems (or sometimes work-related problems) through a confidential service separate from your employer.

By receiving some short-term counselling or other support you can improve your productivity and prevent yourself from needing leave or other time off. This helps both you and the company save money, save time and better enjoy your work.

A literature review discussing the benefits of EAP services in the burgeoning Indian corporate world noted “It is seen that such programs offer benefits in preventing distress among employees and also help them become more resilient to adverse situations.” (Betti, Jutta & Gujral, 2018)

Another study exploring the changes experienced by employees in South Africa who received substance abuse treatment through the EAP found that they appreciated it as a “vehicle for change.” (Soeker, et. al., 2016)

The participants shared a sense of accomplishment and they also valued the tools they acquired in the program and how it positively changed their lives. EAP changed the participants’ lives. EAP improved their work performance as well as behavior at the workplace. Participants felt empowered after attending the EAP. The different categories expressed how EAP brought about a positive change in the participants’ lives.

 

Working for an EAP

If you’re a social worker, counsellor or therapist you may have considered working for an EAP as well. Generally counselling provided by an EAP is provided over the phone. The pace is fast but the work is exciting and varied and you can learn a lot about different clients. This is especially useful if you’re in the early part of your career and would like to get your licensure.

Conclusion

The EAP Industry continues to expand. There is an opportunity for researchers to learn more about EAPs and how to make them effective. There are opportunities for individuals to access EAPs in order to improve their wellness and of helping professionals of all stripes to consider joining an EAP as a counsellor in order to increase their skills in providing crisis intervention, telephone support and brief solution-focused counselling.

Bibliography

Albrecht, S. (2014) Why Don’t Employees Use EAP Services? Psychology Today.

Barrett, P. (n.d.) The EAP gap. The Wellbeing Pulse. Retrieved on Feb 6 2019 from https://thewellbeingpulse.com/the-eap-gap/

International Employee Assistance Professionals Association. (n.d.) “International Employee Assistance Professionals Association Publications / Resources > FAQs” Retrieved on Feb 6 2019 from http://www.eapassn.org/FAQs

Soeker, S., Matimba, T., Machingura, L., Msimango, H., Moswaane, B., & Tom, S. (2016). The challenges that employees who abuse substances experience when returning to work after completion of employee assistance programme (EAP). Work53(3), 569–584. https://0-doi-org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.3233/WOR-152230

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