Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have gone through 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 morphed into a commodity. Today, EAPs seem to be evaluated based on price rather than service and expertise. Thus, the perception of how an EAP should function, the services it should offer and the results it’s capable of producing has been damaged.
Many business leaders don’t realize a good EAP can help drive improvements in productivity, team cohesion and morale. A good EAP can assist with complex issues like diversity, workplace violence and crisis. A good EAP can even help avoid unnecessary healthcare claims.
However, most EAPs look the same on paper. It’s hard for buyers to know what they’re really getting until their program has been implemented.
What kind of value is your EAP delivering? Here are five signs that indicate it may be time to start shopping.
1. Your EAP Provider Isn’t Familiar With Your Goals and Culture
Not sure who provides your EAP? Not sure if you even have one? If that’s the case, you may want to start looking.
The success of an EAP is largely dependent on how deeply it’s infused into your workplace. It should be an extension of your team, not just an 800 number.
Your EAP should be embedded into, and support, a range of HR policies and procedures. Likewise, think about the extent to which your EAP provider is able or willing to adjust the program’s workflow to best meet your needs.
In addition to policies, your EAP provider should be familiar with your culture, program objectives and service expectations. Thus, you should expect swift, expert guidance around difficult topics like crisis management, threat assessment, workplace violence, team discord and employee disengagement that is 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, EAP providers are often forced to quote low just to stay in the game. As a result, many EAPs offer limited promotion to control expenses associated with program utilization. Unfortunately, however, programs that go unused help no one.
Are your employees familiar with your EAP and what it offers?
EAPs require constant promotion to keep them top of mind. Not only should your EAP provider be vigilant about promotion, the program should provide content on a variety of contemporary work-life balance and well-being topics to help keep the program fresh and relevant, and prevent the misconception that an EAP is just for mental health and substance abuse issues.
Finally, is your EAP delivering regular utilization data? More importantly, does it make recommendations for putting the data to use? EAP utilization data can provide valuable insights into workplace trends, and can also be helpful in identifying targeted promotional campaigns. (Bonus tip: EAPs calculate and report utilization differently. Make sure you understand how your EAP defines utilization. Ask how your provider captures web hits and event participations versus actual cases and consultations.)
3. Your Employees Aren’t Satisfied With the EAP Experience
If your participants don’t have a quality service experience from the very first interaction, they are likely to get frustrated, discontinue services and fall through the cracks. This also drives negative word of mouth marketing which can damage program perception and utilization. If this sounds familiar, you should demand something better.
The next time you’re evaluating EAPs, be sure to ask tough questions about the experience your employees will have. Who is answering the phone when a participant calls? A customer service representative or a Master’s-level clinician? What about appointment setting? Does your EAP give participants a list of resources to contact on their own, or does your EAP take an active role in getting them connected? To what extent does your EAP stay involved with each participant to follow up and monitor their progress?
Make sure your EAP’s clinical process — from initial intake to case closing — is structured so participants have an advocate, get what they need and get back to being their best.
4. Your EAP Doesn’t Offer Resources for Your Supervisors
Your supervisors are in a prime position to notice and act upon troubling employee and workplace situations before they escalate. For this reason, supporting supervisors is a cornerstone of a quality EAP.
What resources does your EAP offer 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.
With respect to workplace referrals, ask how your EAP ensures its staff is managing cases according to your polices. What kind of compliance monitoring and feedback do they provide? What role can they play with 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
Finally, if your health insurance carrier or some other employee benefits vendor is providing your EAP, it’s time to reassess. Simply put, health insurance carriers are experts in insurance. Stand-alone EAP 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.
A few other 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 need and deserve an effective EAP partnership.
For a deeper conversation about how an effective EAP can benefit your organization, reach out.