EAP engagement remains low
While EAPs (employee assistance programs) have been proven to improve employee mental health and productivity, EAP engagement remains shockingly low. In today’s workforce, nearly 95% of employers offer some form of an EAP program. Meanwhile, the usage rate by employees has sat stagnant at a mere 2% to 10%. If you’re an employer struggling to increase the usage of your employee assistance program, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, simply adding an EAP to your benefits package typically isn’t enough to meet employee mental health needs. While adding an EAP checks a box, not all programs offer the same benefits. In addition, EAPs are only useful if employees know about and know how to use the program. In over half of organizations, employees are unaware of how to use their EAP, or unaware they have one at all. Below we will go through our top tips to close the gap, and improve employee utilization of your employee assistance program.
Our best strategies to improve EAP engagement
Not all EAPs are built the same
With new products joining the market everyday, it’s important to choose the right EAP for your business. After all, not all employee assistance programs offer the same value or services as others. Before adding an EAP to your benefits plan, make sure you and your advisor have properly researched the options available in the market. Your Human Resources team should also conduct a thorough survey of employee EAP preferences to best meet their needs.
While most EAP services today are offered virtually, some employees may prefer the option for in-person counselling. Also consider the number of sessions available to employees in your chosen program. While traditional EAPs offer between 3 and 5 sessions, some providers today offer as many as 10. Some programs have even more longevity, and are designed to smoothly transition into long-term usage. Most EAPs should include additional, online services and resources for employees to access. Simply adding an EAP to your plan is not enough to get employees to use it. Ensure you do your due diligence, and ensure your EAP value aligns with employee needs to maximize engagement.
Educate employees on the benefits of therapy
Although stigma around mental health has been on the decline in the last decade, there is still a number of organizations where having a mental illness is considered taboo. Employees may have concerns related to being labelled as lazy, attention-seeking, or other negative stereotypes regarding mental illness. While none of these stereotypes are true, it can be hard for employees to feel comfortable admitting they are struggling, if they belong to a work culture that doesn’t speak about mental illness openly.
To combat this issue, employers should integrate mental health newsletters, workshops, and other internal communications into their HR strategy. Discussing mental health with employees in regular 1-1 check in meetings are an effective way to both reduce stigma, and discuss the benefits of your EAP. Going beyond stigma, a number of people underestimate the value of therapy in improving their mental health. When employees are in the thick of a crisis, it can be overwhelming to think about seeking help if they have never done so before.
As an employer, you can integrate additional materials into internal communications that communicate the benefits of therapy, so employees feel equipped to take the first step. While it can feel overbearing or ‘not the job of the employer’ to communicate this information, it’s important to remember employees spend 40 hours of their week at work. if they’re in the middle of a financial, marriage, or mental health crisis, they won’t be able to turn off the stress during the work day. In other words, employers should take it upon themselves to proactively support employees before a crisis, and prevent time away from work, or periods of low-productivity.
Reassess your budget allocation for mental health
Is an EAP right for your organization? Often, employees will have a therapist they already use regularly, and are likely to continue to seek treatment with this therapist. Typically, EAPs only allow employees to connect with a new therapist, which can disrupt patient progress. While employee assistance programs are affordable options for most employers, they may not provide the most bang for your buck if most of your workforce already uses services. In other words, an EAP should not be used as a supplement for clinical counselling and psychologist paramedical coverage.
In some cases, it may be more worthwhile for your benefits plan to enable higher therapy coverage limits, or allow more flexibility in the allocation of paramedical coverage so employees can allocate funds as needed. If you’re operating on a tight budget, communicate the needs and preferences of your employees to your benefits advisor to ensure you allocate budget the best way possible.