Employee assistance programmes (often referred to as EAPs) are designed to offer information, support and counselling to employees and their families to help them identify and resolve concerns. Sometimes these concerns may be affecting the individual’s performance or attendance at work and therefore providing an independent mechanism through which employees can seek help can have a positive impact on productivity at work. EAPs tend to complement the services of occupational health and HR.
The very nature of the service provided by an EAP means that it is often difficult to quantify the benefits it brings to an organisation. However, an HSE study in 1998 and a BACP evidence review in 2001 identified significant improvements in work-related and physical wellbeing amongst employees who had used an EAP and significant reductions in absence levels from work by employees who had used an EAP when compared with those who had not used it (both these studies focused on the counselling element of the service, which usually only represents one part of the EAP offering). EAPs also tend to have high satisfaction rates amongst employees.
One of the traditionally most compelling arguments for having an EAP in place relates to employer liability in work-related stress or psychiatric injury claims. From 2002 until 2007, following an important ruling in the Court of Appeal, having an EAP in place offered an employer protection against such compensation claims. In 2007, another Court of Appeal decision modified this: the current position is now that having an EAP in place does not automatically protect an employer from liability for compensation in such claims and it will depend on the facts of each case. Providing an EAP to staff can still help, however, to demonstrate during proceedings that an employer is meeting its duty of care towards employees, particularly in stress-related cases.
Employer liability: This benefit may not have the same degree of clout that it had in the past, but nevertheless the protection it can afford employers is still a very valuable reason for maintaining an EAP.
Reducing absence: There is some formal evidence that EAPs have a positive impact on employee’s attendance levels, where EAP services are used.
Addressing stress: Access to confidential counselling services can provide an outlet for employees who are under additional pressure, whether or not the source of stress is personal or work related.
Managing change: During times of uncertainty, such as when a redundancy exercise is underway, it is helpful to be able to offer access to the impartial support which an EAP can provide. They can also offer support following traumatic incidents.
Providing support: Managers often need the support of an EAP. They can feel isolated and often have to deal with challenging issues, such as engaging with emotional employees who may have suffered a personal crisis or managing underperformance. With an EAP service, managers can pick up the phone at any point in time and discuss different strategies for managing difficult situations at work.
Fast Access to Counselling: There can be lengthy waiting times to access counselling services through the NHS and thus this can be a great benefit to staff. Often, the earlier a problem is addressed, the quicker the employee is able to recover.
More comprehensive EAPs may also provide training for managers on how to manage employees to improve employee and organisational performance as well as referral services for specialist treatment for employees, coupled with case management.
For an EAP to be effective it is really important – and case law has reinforced this – that staff are aware that it is available. Employers should therefore:
Subject to geographical location and our contract we can offer certain customers access to an EAP via our third party provider, HELP Employee Assistance Programme. Please contact us to find out more.