Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have undergone an unfortunate transformation over the last two decades. What started as a program to support the workplace through clinical intervention, short-term problem-solving, management and high-level organizational support has become a commodity.
Before the pandemic, EAP providers tended to be evaluated based on price rather than service and expertise. Thus, the perception of how an EAP should function, the support it should offer and the results it can produce were damaged.
Now, more business leaders realize that a quality provider can drive productivity, team cohesion and morale improvements. They can assist with complex issues like diversity, workplace violence and disruptive event response. A quality EAP provider can also help organizations avoid unnecessary healthcare claims.
Many EAP providers tend to look the same on paper, but when you look “under the hood,” the differences are staggering. Sadly, many providers have cut their costs to compete with insurance carriers providing services at a low price or free or as a “tack-on” offering. To reduce costs and maintain a profit, vendors cut out labor while sacrificing the quality of service.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many buyers to know what they’re genuinely getting until their program has been implemented. If your EAP has any of the following five signs, it is time to start shopping
1. Your provider doesn’t understand your organization’s goals and culture
An employee assistance program’s success depends on how deeply it infuses into your workplace. It should be an extension of your team, not just an 800 number.
Your EAP should be embedded into and support various HR policies and procedures. Likewise, think about the extent to which your provider is able or willing to adjust the program’s workflow to meet your organization’s needs best. A quality provider will do just that.
In addition, your provider should be familiar with your culture, program objectives and service expectations. This allows them to offer swift, expert guidance on complex topics like crisis management, threat assessment, workplace violence, team discord and employee disengagement tailored to your organization. After all, your EAP should be much more than just a counseling benefit.
2. Your employees aren’t familiar with your EAP and what it offers
Limited program promotion is a common issue among EAPs. With so much emphasis on price, providers are often forced to quote low to stay in the game. As a result, many EAPs offer limited program promotion to control expenses associated with program utilization. Unfortunately, programs that go unused help no one.
Employee assistance programs require constant promotion to keep them top of mind. Not only should your provider be vigilant about increasing program awareness, but the program should also provide content on various current work-life balance and well-being topics. This helps keep the program relevant and prevents the misconception that an EAP is just for performance, mental health and substance misuse issues.
Additionally, your EAP should deliver regular utilization data and, more importantly, make recommendations based on the analysis of the data. EAP utilization data can provide valuable insights into workplace trends and identify targeted promotional campaigns.
It’s critical that you understand how your EAP defines utilization. Many providers report inflated utilization rates with website visits and other misleading engagement indicators. They do this to hide the fact that they have poor case utilization rates due to a lack of promotion and no incentive to increase program participation.
The true case utilization rate reflects the percentage of employees assisted by a human master’s level clinician. In other words, it provides the actual number of people who used the program to navigate through a challenge or issue. Always ask your provider how it calculates utilization and demand they provide true case utilization rates.
3. Your employees aren’t satisfied with the service experience
If your employees don’t have an extraordinary service experience from the first interaction, they will likely get frustrated, discontinue services and fall through the cracks. When that happens, the employee’s issue goes unresolved and continues to impact their performance, potentially creating behavioral and financial risk to the organization.
Additionally, poor experiences drive negative word-of-mouth marketing, damaging program perception and utilization. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to demand something better.
The next time you evaluate EAPs, ask substantial questions about the experience your employees will have. Some examples include:
- Who answers the phone when an employee calls, a customer service representative or a master’s-level clinician?
- Does your EAP give the participant a list of resources to contact on their own, or does it take an active role in connecting them to a provider and facilitating the appointment?
- To what extent does your EAP stay involved with the participant to follow up and monitor their progress?
Understanding how your EAP’s clinical process is structured from initial intake to case closing ensures participants have an advocate, get the support they need to reach their goals and get back to being their best.
4. Your program doesn’t offer resources for your supervisors
Before the pandemic, supervisors were in a prime position to notice and act upon troubling employee and workplace situations before they escalated. Now with remote and hybrid workforces, it’s increasingly challenging for supervisors to have that same pulse on their employees. For this reason, supporting supervisors is a cornerstone of a quality employee assistance program.
When evaluating your current program, ask yourself what resources it offers your supervisors. An effective EAP offers expert coaching, training and education to help supervisors develop problem-solving techniques and effectively manage difficult situations before they harm morale, productivity, workplace safety or customer relationships.
Regarding workplace referrals to the program, ask how your provider ensures its staff manages cases according to your policies. You want to understand their compliance monitoring, the feedback they provide and the role they play in return-to-duty support.
If your EAP does not offer this level of support, you are missing an essential and critical service.
5. Your EAP is bundled with insurance or another employee benefit
If your health insurance carrier or other employee benefits vendor is providing your employee assistance program, it’s time to reassess. Simply put, health insurance carriers are insurance experts. Stand-alone employee assistance program providers are experts in EAP services. Just as you don’t want your EAP processing insurance claims, you should reconsider having an insurance carrier consult on workplace issues, respond to crises or counsel your employees. It’s just not their priority or focus.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Employees are often hesitant to use an EAP connected to a health insurance carrier because of a perceived lack of confidentiality
- Carrier EAPs offer few to no options for customization since they’re typically bundled with other products (remember the point about supporting your policies)
- Program visibility and utilization are limited since there’s little promotion
- Carrier EAPs offer limited program management, utilization reporting, trend analysis or recommendations for improving the workplace
- Some carrier EAPs don’t offer crisis debriefing, training or other high-level support at all
Remember, your employees bring more than their talents and expertise to the workplace. They also carry their personal and work-related issues with them every day. If your EAP is missing the mark, it may be time to demand more from your vendor. It may even be time to start shopping. Either way, you and your employees deserve an effective partnership.
Want to have a deeper conversation about how an effective EAP can benefit your organization? Contact us today.
Originally published on February 1, 2017.