Pillar 3: Offer Employee ASSISTANCE
Learn about resources to assist employees who have, or may develop, mental health conditions or substance use disorders.
Providing assistance and support to employees with mental health conditions or substance use disorders is an essential part of an inclusive workplace.
Several tactics for assisting employees are explored in Pillar 1, such as:
- Providing mentoring, coaching and peer support to your employees.
- Providing screening for mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
- Providing access to secondary and tertiary treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders through the company’s health care plan and other benefits.
- Providing flexible work arrangements such as flextime and telecommuting.
- Offering fitness programs to support employees’ physical and mental health.
- Offering stress management training.
Many employers support employees by sponsoring Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) focused on substance use disorders and mental health services.
What are EAPs?
According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), EAPs “serve organizations and their employees in multiple ways, ranging from consultation at the strategic level about issues with organization-wide implications to individual assistance to employees and family members experiencing personal difficulties.” These difficulties may include, but are not limited to:
- Stress, whether work-related or not
- Alcohol and other substance misuse, including misuse of prescription drugs
- Major life transitions
- Health care management concerns
- Financial or legal concerns
- Family or personal relationship concerns, including those related to marriage, children or aging parents
- Coworker relationship concerns
- Work/life balance
How do EAPs Work?
EAP services are paid for in full by the employer but are provided confidentially; employers do not know which individual employees access EAP services, rather, they only receive data regarding the number who do. Some large organizations offer in-house EAP services, while others outsource them to specialized EAP providers. Regardless of approach, EAPs typically offer access to a 24-hour telephone hotline.
Originally, EAPs were focused on substance use disorders. The first programs, started in the 1930s, were peer-to-peer efforts to address worker alcohol use in particular and its impact on worker performance. Over time, businesses realized the model could be used to help employees address a range of personal and mental health issues that might negatively impact their productivity.
What are the Benefits of EAPs?
Research conducted over the years has affirmed EAPs’ effectiveness, for both employers and employees, on multiple levels. In addition to increased employee productivity, these benefits include reduced medical costs, turnover and absences. They can also be a key tool for employee retention and helping employees stay at or return to work following an accident or illness, whether a mental health condition or not. Given their roots, EAPs may be a key tool for helping employees impacted by the opioid epidemic.
The benefits of EAPs convey regardless of size of company. Yet small businesses are less likely to offer them than their larger counterparts, even though research by the National Small Business Association (PDF) indicates that 42% of small business owners report that when it comes to overall productivity and employee health, high stress levels are the greatest concern.
There are strategies small businesses can use to offer EAP services, for example, by banding together to negotiate for better prices. Business membership groups such as chambers of commerce or trade associations may be of assistance in this regard. In fact, providing employee assistance in the small business environment can be especially important, given that decreased productivity or absence of even one employee can have significant effects across an organization.
EAPs may not be an option for every company, in which case many of the tips listed in Pillar 1 can help employers accomplish similar goals.
Where Can I Learn More about EAPs?
- EARN Research to Practice Brief: Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Mental Health and the Experiences of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Professionals: Learn how employers used EAPs to support worker mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and how these practices can be used by organizations of all sizes. The practices outlined in this publication were developed based on the experiences of EAP professionals who are members of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA).
- Employee Assistance Programs: This toolkit from the Center for Workplace Mental Health provides basic background on EAPs along with information on delivery and pricing models, tips for employers and resource links.
- An Employer’s Guide to Employee Assistance Programs (PDF): This report from the National Business Group on Health is designed to help employers realize the strategic value of an EAP.
- Employee Assistance Programs for a New Generation of Employees: Defining the New Generation (PDF): This report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) explores EAPs in the context of the millennial workforce. Learn more by reading EAPA's article “Reaching Millennials: Responding to Generational Diversity in the Workplace.”
- Provide Support: This resource from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) addresses EAPs in the context of substance use disorder in workers.
Explore the next Pillar: Ensure ACCESS to Treatment.