Three Common EAP Purchasing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are getting greater attention these days, and rightfully so. As employee well-being and workplace engagement have become top-of-mind for business leaders, EAPs have been increasingly recognized as an affordable way to offer practical solutions.

Buyers face a sea of options, and it can be challenging to distinguish the average from the exceptional. To help you make an informed decision on your next employee assistance program, here are three common mistakes buyers make and tips to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Choosing an “EAP” offered through a non-specialty provider.

Today’s market is overrun with services claiming to be employee assistance programs. Health insurance carriers, disability providers, workers’ compensation, and even payroll companies are packaging an 800 number and rudimentary counseling support as an adjunct to their core product. These programs are marketed as EAPs, and some are even offered for free. Others are available for a small fee.

The reality is that these programs are not EAPs at all. A true EAP offers three layers of support:

  1. Expert clinical and work-life balance services for individuals
  2. Performance consultation and coaching support for managers
  3. High-level workplace consultation and assistance (training, crisis management, policy review, etc.)

Most programs offered through a carrier or benefits provider lack essential manager and workplace support. These programs provide little-to-no promotion, customization, utilization reporting, or program management. Furthermore, services are typically only available to plan members, leaving the rest of your employees (and their household members) without access to support.

Tip #1: Leave it to the experts.

EAP is not insurance. It certainly isn’t payroll. We argue that EAP isn’t a benefit but a culture-building and risk-management strategy. When shopping for an EAP, consider the employee and workplace situations you, your managers, and your HR team have encountered over the years.

Do you want your EAP to simply check a box? Or do you need a partner to help solve real problems – the kind that seeps into the workplace and keeps you up at night?


Mistake #2: Selecting your EAP from a spreadsheet.

Most EAPs provide the same core deliverables and look the same on paper. Do you want six sessions? Check. Do you want work-life balance services? Check. Do you want on-site activities and digital resources? Check.

So, what makes one EAP better than another? We argue that it’s the people and service philosophy. A quality EAP comes down to experience, expertise, and outstanding customer service. However, you can’t evaluate those things on a spreadsheet.

Unfortunately, many buyers only ask two questions when researching and comparing EAPs: “What’s included?” and “What does it cost?” The resulting spreadsheet makes it hard to understand the level of service they are truly getting.

Picking an EAP off a spreadsheet is like hiring a new employee based on their resume without meeting them.

Tip #2: Ask the right questions.

Knowing the right questions to ask EAP providers about their people and practices can help uncover the experience and outcomes you and your employees can expect. The following questions can help you determine if they can truly deliver on their promises.

  • Is EAP their specialty or a side business?
  • What is the background and expertise of their staff and providers?
  • How do they recruit and retain top talent?
  • What is their case management philosophy (especially regarding high-risk cases and workplace referrals)?
  • Ask for examples of how the vendor has helped other customers.
  • Ask for and check their references.


Mistake #3: Choosing your EAP based on price.

When was the last time you got something of genuine value for the lowest price? As with most purchases, you may not need the most expensive option, but you need something reliable. The same is true of your employee assistance program.

At some point, almost everyone experiences a challenge that causes stress and disruption. Moreover, employees don’t leave their problems at the door when they come to work. This affects the mood in the office, work quality, customer relationships, and more.

An employee assistance program is an investment in your people and business because it provides professional support to get employees and work groups back on track. Program results are directly associated with program quality. It should come as no surprise that program quality and program price are also linked.

When you select your EAP based on price, you leave yourself open to issues such as inadequate program promotion, limited service deliverables, low utilization, and poor customer service. EAPs are typically offered for a capitated, per-employee per-month rate, which means the vendor holds the risk. As a result, they are motivated to do as little work as possible because they are being paid very little.

At that point, even though your EAP may have been a lower-cost option, you’re still paying good money for lousy service and getting little to nothing in return.

Tip #3: Think about the big picture.

Rather than focusing solely on price, consider the cost of not having a quality program.

What happens when a challenging personal issue distracts an employee? What if it’s a high-performer, manager, or essential employee? What if their problem persists? What if the situation poses a safety issue or other liability? Take a moment and consider the financial implications.

A quality EAP provides immediate access to care and can resolve most issues within the program’s scope. This helps expedite the employee’s return to a more productive state. It also means most cases never result in a mental healthcare claim on your health insurance. High-quality EAPs reduce employee absenteeism, increase workplace engagement, and improve culture.

Another question you might ask is, what resources do your managers and HR team have available to help address difficult workplace situations?

Workplace violence, crisis, significant organizational change, and sensitive cultural, social, and political issues often require an experienced, outside perspective. The odds are that low-cost EAP offers little or no high-level workplace support. High-quality EAPs are workplace partners with the expertise to help guide your organization through difficult times.

So, the next time you consider your employees’ value, ask yourself, “Can you afford a cheap EAP?”

Want to have a deeper conversation about how a high-quality EAP can benefit your organization? Contact us today.

Post Written by

Vice President, Customer Solutions

Randi is the Vice President of Customer Solutions at BHS. She leads a department of regional directors, business development managers, and account executives to ensure every BHS customer receives an extraordinary experience. Understanding each customer’s unique needs, Randi identifies and creates solutions that solve business problems related to the behavioral risks of the workforce. Randi is a native of Bergen County, NJ and graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in social work and education. She enjoys cooking, traveling and dragon boat racing on the Delaware River outside Philadelphia in her free time.