Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Editor's Note: Employee assistance programs can positively affect an employer's health care costs.

Tracy MorleyOverview: Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are offered by many employers in an effort to help employees resolve personal issues that might adversely impact an employee's job performance, health and well-being.

EAPs offer a variety of services on a confidential basis. Initially, EAPs started as a benefit to help employees deal with substance abuse problems, however, in recent years, they have expanded their scope to offer counseling, referrals and educational resources on a variety of other common issues including: (i) stress; (ii) family and relationship problems; (iii) depression; (iv) personal financial and legal concerns; and (v) parenting/eldercare issues.

It is not easy to determine the return on investment for EAPs. To help with this assessment, the EAP provides periodic reports that show aggregate data on how many times employees have used the program for a particular problem or concern. Employers can use this information to change the plan design in other benefit programs and/or offer new types of support to employees. Another way for employers to assess the effectiveness of their EAP is to look at whether it has positively impacted the employer's spending on mental health claims and stress related medical claims.

Trends: EAPs tend to work best when they are linked to the employer's overall employee benefit program. More employers are integrating EAPs into their overall benefits strategy with a specific focus on better health management. As the services provided by EAPs continue to grow, more than likely, employees will increasingly look to this benefit as a resource.

Tracy Morley, SPHR, Legal Editor

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HR guidance on the benefits of having an employee assistance program.