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Employee assistance programs benefits: How to increase usage

female employee at office

Employers often ask, “What are the benefits of employee assistance programs, and how can I encourage employees to use them?” 

EAPs are employer-sponsored programs that offer services or referrals to help employees manage personal challenges. These programs can boost employee well-being, satisfaction, performance and health.  

Unfortunately, these programs are heavily underutilized. According to Mental Health America, 98% of mid- to large-sized companies offer EAPs, but only 4% of employees use them yearly. This represents a significant missed opportunity for employers and employees. Employers can use the guidance in this article to increase the use of their EAPs. 

What is an EAP? 

EAPs vary between organizations. Some programs focus specifically on issues such as mental health or substance misuse, while others offer expanded services to address eating disorders, marital issues, legal problems, childcare, care for older adults, gambling addiction and more. 

Depending on how these programs are structured, they can offer employee education, evaluation, hotline services, counseling or referrals. These services are confidential and may be run in-house, outsourced through an independent EAP provider or a combination of the two. 

 When effectively utilized, employers may notice the following EAP benefits: 

  • lower healthcare costs; 

  • fewer disability claims; 

  • less absenteeism; 

  • higher productivity and focus; 

  • improved employee morale; 

  • fewer workplace accidents; and 

  • higher retention. 

Why EAPs are underutilized 

Despite the numerous benefits of EAPs, employees overwhelmingly ignore this resource. Employees may forgo the use of EAPs due to stigma surrounding concerns like mental health or substance use issues. They may feel ashamed of asking for help or fear retribution from their employer for using the programs. EAPs are confidential in almost all cases, but workers who would benefit from these programs may be unaware of this. 

Many employees also lack a fundamental understanding of what EAPs provide or how to use them. One study published by the National Library of Medicine found that 53% of public health workers didn’t use their EAPs during the COVID-19 pandemic because they had difficulty accessing them.  

Lack of awareness is another common problem. A 2020 study by benefits provider Unum found that although 93% of HR professionals say they offer EAPs, nearly half of workers say their employer doesn’t offer an EAP or is unsure if it does. Employees may also underuse their EAPs due to a lack of motivation or time. 

How employers can leverage their EAP benefits 

Most employees want their employers to provide mental health support and benefits and are more likely to stay at organizations that support their mental health. According to a 2023 study by software company Calm, 67% of employees want their employer to help them manage their stress and anxiety.  

While an EAP is typically designed for short-term use rather than long-term therapy or healthcare, it is equipped to educate employees and direct them to the resources they need. The following are best practices for increasing the use of these programs: 

1. Communicate frequently, honestly and transparently 

Employers can boost employee awareness of EAPs with a comprehensive and engaging review of benefits offerings during onboarding and open enrollment, frequent communications (e.g., emails, lunch and learns and newsletters) and wellness fairs. 

Further, employers can ensure managers and supervisors are educated on the EAP services offered and trained to communicate effectively with staff when mental health concerns arise. 

2. Address confidentiality concerns 

Employees may elect not to use EAPs over concerns that their participation will be tracked by employers and negatively impact their careers. Employers can address this concern by informing employees that it’s against federal law for EAPs to disclose information employees share with their employers.  

3. Challenge mental health stigma 

Many employees may avoid using EAPs due to the stigma surrounding mental health. If EAP utilization is low, employers can consider emphasizing other services EAPs offer, such as caregiver resources or financial planning, and reiterating that employees don’t need to be in a state of extreme distress to use EAP mental health benefits.  

Moreover, organizations can take steps to create a supportive mental health culture. This may include encouraging employees to prioritize their mental health, training managers to recognize the signs of mental illness and stress, offering flexibility and scheduling regular check-ins with employees. Learn more about the top five reasons to offer employees mental health benefits

4. Monitor and evaluate EAP performance 

Employers can collect and analyze EAP usage to understand the effectiveness of their communications. A combination of quantitative and qualitative data can be useful. As such, employers can also consider asking for employee feedback via one-on-one conversations, surveys and focus groups. This can help employers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their programs and create an actionable plan for improvement. 

Contact us today: Get more information on EAPs 

Although most employees want mental health and other benefits, only a small percentage take advantage of their employer-provided EAPs. Employers that proactively address barriers like mental health stigmas and educate employees about their EAPs may see increased utilization of these programs, contributing to increased employee engagement, productivity and retention. 

If you’d like more information on EAPs, contact TruePlan today. Our team of experts can discuss the best ways to leverage your current or future EAP offerings. 

This Benefits Insights is not intended to be exhaustive, nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice. © 2024 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved. 

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