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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is an employee assistance program (EAP)?

What is an employee assistance program (EAP)?

Last updated

30 August 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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An employee assistance program (EAP) refers to a package of employee benefits that an organization provides. This assistance can help employees resolve issues that may affect their lives and ultimately escalate and impact their performance at work.

When EAPs are implemented correctly, they can contribute to an employee's personal wellness, productivity, and even the company's success.

What are the benefits of an EAP?

A proper employee assistance program benefits not only the employees but also the employer. Some of the more common benefits of an EAP include:

  • Improved employee productivity

  • Higher employee retention

  • A reduction in employee absenteeism

  • A reduction in the number of disability claims, labor disputes, health insurance claims, and workers' compensation claims

  • Improved employee safety through a reduction in workplace violence and safety incidents

In short, an EAP helps employees improve their health and wellness, so they can better respond to challenges. Employers may experience more productivity, employee engagement, and better customer service when employees get the help they need.

What is included in an EAP?

Depending on the employer's benefits provider, employees may have access to:

  • Individual assessments

  • Financial and legal services

  • Educational programs

  • Counseling services

  • Critical incident response

  • Elder care assistance

  • Family planning

  • Childcare services

These services may be provided online or in person, and, in some cases, employees may have access to 24/7 support. The services are often provided at no or low cost to the employee. 

Confidentiality offered by the service providers ensures employees can take part in the programs without their employer being aware of any issues they are facing. Depending on the company, there are also EAPs specifically designed for managers or supervisors to assist them in managing an employee's performance or workplace crises.

Types of EAPs

There is no one-size-fits-all model of EAP. There are various programs to choose from, each with its benefits.

Types of EAPs include:

External programs

An external program offers employees and their loved ones access to a toll-free number. When an employee calls, the EAP intake specialist will verify the person's eligibility for the service, then refer them to a specialized network of EAP providers convenient to the employee or their family members.

Blended programs

Under a blended program, an employee has more options. They can meet with an in-house employee assistance professional or use the vendor EAP network to access EAP counseling services near where they live.

Management-sponsored programs

This program is sponsored exclusively by management. These types of programs vary in design and scope. Some deal with only substance misuse and others with employee health-benefit structures or health and wellness activities.

Member assistance programs

A member assistance program (MAP) is provided by a union. These programs can differ in scope and design but generally provide support for prevention, problem identification, counseling services, and referrals.

Peer-based programs

These programs are less common than conventional EAPs but still offer a significant amount of support. These peer or coworker-based EAPs provide training, education, assistance, and referrals through peers or coworkers.

Requirements for an EAP

When offering an EAP, confidentiality is the most important consideration. Any information about an employee's physical or mental health is protected by privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

What’s more, if an employee works with a counselor, these professionals cannot reveal what has been discussed with them, except in instances where workplace safety would be compromised.

How to offer an EAP to employees

To launch an EAP in your organization, the first step is to identify employees' needs. Organizations must know what issues their employees are having so that they can better support them.

Keep the following steps in mind when implementing an EAP in your company:

  • Discuss availability: Employees need to know not only the services available through these programs but also the potential benefits they can bring them. If employees do not understand how these programs work, participation will be low.

  • Ensure confidentiality: Ensure the supervisors and managers in your organization do not have access to any details an employee shares with an EAP professional.

  • Discuss services available: Explain the wide range of issues an EAP can help address, including financial problems, substance abuse, and divorce.

  • Review costs: Employees need to understand that most EAP benefits are free for themselves and their family members.

  • Discuss EAP benefits: Emphasize how an EAP can help employees with certain issues, including depression or substance abuse.

  • Training: Before you launch an EAP, provide certain staff members with training regarding the program's policies, support, and procedures.

  • Launch: You may want to consider launching EAP during the open enrollment season, with emphasis on this being a new benefit to employees.

  • Maintain: Periodically review the EAP by checking in with employees and discussing with them what they think of the program and what could be improved with the process.

What are examples of services provided by an EAP?

Although there are a wide variety of services offered through an EAP, some of the more common examples include:

  • Substance abuse treatment

  • Family counseling

  • Marital counseling

  • Legal help

  • Elder care assistance

  • Financial wellness tools

  • Grief counseling

  • Mental health care

  • Parenting and special needs support

In summary

EAPs are important because they help employees with their mental health and personal issues, which can have a direct correlation to their performance at work. In fact, by helping employees overcome personal problems, an EAP allows employers to maintain productivity and improve engagement in the workplace.

If you’re interested in implementing an EAP, speak with your human resources department or benefits administrator.

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