What HR should ask before working with an EAP

"You need an EAP that brings tangible value," The Listening Centre's founder explains

Finding the right Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is crucial for businesses seeking to support the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce.  

As the importance of wellbeing in the workplace continues to grow, HR professionals face the challenge of choosing an EAP that delivers genuine value for employees and the company.

Recently, I was on BBC Radio 4 speaking about an investigation the BBC was conducting into one of the UK's biggest EAP providers. Sadly, I’ve spoken with counsellors who work for some larger EAPs at which employees' needs are often not the priority. 

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It's essential to verify that an EAP’s range of services aligns with your requirements. Options vary widely, from a comprehensive 24/7 service to helpline-only support.

When presented with a complex case, many EAPs redirect employees to the NHS, or decline help if issues extend beyond the scope of a short-term cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model. 

So, how do you know if the EAP you are considering will be a good fit for your business? Asking the right questions can help.

Among the most important questions are: 

  1. What is your screening and selection process for therapists? 

  2. What protocols are followed during the initial call an employee makes? 

  3. What are the call handler's qualifications? 

  4. How do you decide who gets face-to-face counselling?

  5. What percentage of employees who contact you go on to access face-to-face counselling? 

  6. What's the average lead time between an initial call and the first counselling appointment? 

  7. What’s the average number of counselling sessions someone will receive, and what happens if they require a few extra sessions? 

  8. How are safeguarding issues managed, and is the decision-maker clinically trained?

  9. What quality systems do you have in place to assess outcomes? 

  10. How are complaints handled, and do we ever get to know about them? 

  11. If employees self-refer, what feedback can you provide to ensure that we are doing everything possible to support them? 

  12. What complimentary services do you provide (ie manager training and trauma support)? 

Once you have an EAP, how can you ensure it provides the best service possible for your staff? Were specific performance targets set when you started working with your current EAP? What was the aim of having an EAP, and what were the agreed-upon indicators of success? 

To evaluate your EAP's impact, consider: 

Traditional EAP models often exclude employers from an employee’s progress and support needs, which can lead to a lack of awareness about an EAP’s performance. This is due to concerns that an employee won’t access an EAP service if they know their employer is aware they are seeking support. However, we’ve found that if there is a culture of transparency and care at a company, employees really value that holistic support. 

Prioritising your workforce's mental wellbeing can be difficult, but it demands more than a box-ticking exercise. You need an EAP that brings tangible value and aligns closely with your company's unique dynamics. 

When you understand your EAP's operational and clinical underpinnings, you stand a better chance of forging a partnership that works well for everyone. 

By Sharon McCormick, founder of The Listening Centre