What you must consider when selecting an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Employers interested in implementing or looking to review their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), should consider a number of factors to select the best provider for their organisation.
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an independent and confidential counselling service for individuals to help them through any issues that they face in their life that they need some external support.
This support can be invaluable and by partnering with the right external EAP provider, this will help your staff both professional and personally. Here are some factors employers should consider:
~ Is it accessible to your entire workforce?
All work locations?
Many organisations have their staff based at different locations within the same town, state and across the country.
When selecting an EAP provider you should check with them how their service can cater for those employees located inside and outside of metropolitan areas.
For example, for an employee working in a rural location, will they have access to the same or any services? Can they still have face-to-face counselling sessions or over the phone counselling?
All staff – permanent and non-permanent?
Most EAPs cater for all current employees of an organisation, from full time to casual employees. You should determine if this is the case with the provider you are considering.
Staff and immediate families?
The majority of EAPs allow the service to be utilised by the current staff and immediate families of that staff member.
Personally, I believe this is a terrific benefit, as if there are serious issues impacting those close to us, it is no doubt affecting us as well.
It is important to clarify these conditions, it may only include the spouse/partner of the current employees – but it is better to confirm initially so that you are clear and can communicate to your staff.
~ How are the costs determined?
A common cost approach for an EAP is the use of the employee headcount in which you pay a set fee per employee, whether the service is accessed or not.
This provides some guarantee that the service will be available for all should they need it. Assess the costing structure with what is and isn’t included to help determine the ongoing investment by the business.
It may appear unfair to pay for employees who don’t use it, however in my experience of two organisation’s where I had direct involvement in their EAPs, I have seen this dramatically support the mental health of several employees during very difficult times in their lives.
The EAP benefit completely outweighed the cost, which allowed these employees to gain critical support they needed to deal with these issues and return to work sooner.
~ What about additional costs?
There may be several reasons for an EAP to cost more than what has been negotiated in a contract. An EAP contract generally outlines that each has up to X number of sessions every year.
Once an employee has reached their maximum sessions and if they still want to access these services there will generally be a cost. This cost can be worn by the employee or employer – depending on what is agreed – but what will that cost be? Also what if other family members want to access the service, but they are not included in their immediate family?
Is there a quota for counselling sessions in the contract, that if this is exceeded across the organisation will there be additional fees? What if the employee headcount dramatically increased or decreased during the contract period – does the costs change?
It is important that the employer be proactive and ask questions such as mentioned to clarify where additional costs may come from before signing a contract.
~ What reporting will you gain access to?
An EAP is a confidential service, however providers generally report on employee usage to the employer.
It is important to determine how frequently and how much information you can gain access to. As mentioned this is an independent service, therefore you will not be able to obtain names or details of what is discussed.
However, with any investment by an organisation, it is important to know (if possible) if it is of benefit, including how many people are accessing the service and the types of issues that they gaining support with.
For example, should there be a common workplace issue of discrimination, I’m sure you as an employer want to be aware so that you can address this issue more broadly. Perhaps see if a potential EAP provider can give you a sample report as to what you would receive and ask them how they work with their existing clients on serious or common trends.
~ Wait periods
I have worked in a number of organisations where I have been involved with their EAP providers.
The relationship with the Account Manager is extremely important, particularly when you have an employee in a crisis situation who really needs to speak to someone straight away.
Having that relationship will be critical to have someone on the inside to escalate appointments for your staff. It is all well and good to have an EAP, however should employees need to wait weeks for an appointment, this may not be ideal.
~ EAP promotion
Unfortunately, I see many employers who have an EAP do not actively promote this to their staff.
It may not be the providers fault, however speaking with your provider will help you to determine what promotional material they will provide to your organisation to help your staff know about the program, how it works and what they need to do to access it.
If this isn’t provided, are you able to create promotional material with the resources that you have?
Promotional material is critical to increase the awareness of the program so that all staff know that it exists, that the organisation is committed to supporting their staff and how to go about accessing the services.
~ Ability to run training sessions
Your organisation may have additional requirements of your EAP to run group training sessions for some or all of your staff.
Topics may include financial counselling, mental health and wellbeing, critical management incidents and stress management.
Although you may not be aware of all of your future needs, should you be providing any (internally or externally) or looking to deliver, it may be worthwhile speaking with potential EAP providers to determine if they would meet your needs.
As employee assistance program (EAP) contracts are usually for one year, it is worthwhile speaking with potential service providers to determine if they will meet all of your requirements to ensure that you select the best provider for your organisation that will support your staff during critical times where they need external support.