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Dump flawed employee assistance programmes

Life has changed substantially throughout the pandemic and the workplace has changed with it. It would be willfully ignorant to continue using the same outdated systems that we used to use, despite the dramatic changes to the way we work.

One such system is the employee assistance programme (EAP), a performative way for employers to demonstrate that they care about their employees that doesn’t actually benefit them all that much, and holds HR teams back from achieving their full potential within the workplace.

The effectiveness of EAPs:

New tool measures EAP effectiveness

How HR can make the most of EAPs

Evaluating EAP effectiveness: Need for change

Led by an ever-stronger employee voice, businesses must adapt to stay in the race for talent. With multiple surveys showing that employees are leaving businesses where they feel a lack of support for their wellbeing, we explored this further to investigate if the EAP model is broken.

EAPs have their merits, but they’re no longer fit for purpose.

You wouldn’t want to use obsolete systems elsewhere in your business, so why are businesses still insisting on using these for their employees?

They were originally developed in the 1970s to suit large businesses, but where does that leave SMEs that require support for employees?

While EAPs have had proven benefits for businesses, the results for employees aren’t so clear, and with HR effectively being the mediator between employee and employer, this can have a significant effect on their ability to carry out their role to its fullest potential.

The average waiting time for counselling via an EAP has increased to six weeks, which could be devastating for an employee seeking urgent mental healthcare and would be off-putting to those seeking counselling as a preventative measure. How can an EAP be fit for purpose if it fails to fulfil its primary goal?

EAPs are a reactive support mechanism, which most employees will not use because they believe EAPs are a service you use only when you have an issue – and many employees will not want to be seen as having an issue.

A more appropriate solution would be to have a remote platform that employees can self-refer to, and access everything from physiotherapy to mental healthcare.

By putting health back in the hands of employees, they can be responsible for their own health and don’t face the barriers to access services that systems like EAPs put in place.

A self-referral system also makes more sense as it can be accessed whenever and wherever the employee requires, whether they’re in the office or working from home.

HR departments are already frustrated by the lack of quality business information on EAP usage.

Actual employee usage is startlingly low (on average 3%-5%), and while some could take this to mean that their employees are happy and content, the reality is that the alarming burnout and resignation rate at many businesses would say otherwise.

These reports are limited to showing the financial benefit but provide little in terms of detail that can allow the company to make internal adjustments for improved employee wellbeing.

According to 2020/21 research by EAPA, an increase in ROI was reported: £8.00 per £1.00 invested, compared with £7.27 in the previous year.

This return on investment shows that supporting employees pays off, but imagine what the ROI would be if a programme was offered to engage a more meaningful percentage of the workforce instead of only a few.

Jack Latus is CEO of Latus Health