Employee assistance programmes more popular than ever

The number of employees in the UK seeking aid from their employee assistance programmes (EAPs) leapt by nearly 350,000 in the past year.

This huge increase in EAP usage has meant that employers are seeing a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) from their programme, according to calculations by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA).

From October 2020 to October 2021, the average ROI from £1.00 rose to an average of £8.00 from £7.43.


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Eugene Farrell, chair of EAPA UK told HR magazine that the rising prominence of mental health over the past five years, and the ongoing strain of the pandemic, has seen more and more employees take up help.

“While many health services were in short supply, EAP support has remained constantly available to employees when they needed it, and this has meant more people coming to EAP for support and treatment.”

Large employers in particular have seen a leap in their ROI, with some seeing it rise by as much as 50%.

For companies with 5,000 or more staff, the average ROI has risen from £8.43 to £12.75 for every pound spent on EAPs.

EAPA calculations compare the cost of employers’ EAP programmes against productivity, levels of absence, and the cost for the company of employee absence. 

The report suggested that larger companies may have more success with EAPs because they have the resources to fine-tune their implementation.

Farrell said: “The figures confirm that employers who are committed and engaged with their EAP have higher usage and higher ROI, making use of every format possible – posters, flyers, desk prompts and emails – but also infographics and video clips to get the message across about the range of services available and topics covered.”

A proven approach for effective communication of the EAP, he added, is to focus on individual aspects of the programme linking it to topical issues affecting employees such as financial worries, sleep, stress or family relationships.

He added: “It's important to train line managers in how to spot the signs of employees struggling with mental health, and more importantly how to have timely and sensitive conversations with their team members and direct them to EAP support."

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, told HR magazine that it is unsurprising that many employees have turned to EAPs during a challenging few years.

He said: “With the exception of company-sponsored pension schemes (which employers are required to offer under auto-enrolment legislation), the humble – but useful – EAP is almost certainly the most universally available employee benefit to employees across the UK.

“Yet they are probably best used as part of a wider offering, including more targeted support for physical, mental and financial wellbeing.”

Noelle Murphy, senior HR practice editor at consultancy XpertHR, told HR magazine that to ensure good take-up, employers need to make accessing any service as easy as possible.

She said: “Complicated login processes from the company site, or having to seek a referral from a line manager, are to be avoided to ensure as much uptake as possible.”

Employees tend to be reluctant to discuss their use of EAPs, she added, and employers should be clear that, while flagging the availability of the programme, asking if it has been accessed is not appropriate.

“The essence of the success in uptake of the programme is dependent on employees ability to feel safe to make contact and discuss what can be extremely difficult life events, involving legal issues, debt or mental health issues,” she said.

“It is not so much a question of can an organisation afford an EAP but rather can it afford not to offer one.”