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June 15, 2023

Maximize the Value of Your Employee Wellness Benefits

Last month, we polled 600 business leaders from across the country to better understand how they’re supporting the mental health needs of employees. Two-thirds (67%) reported that they offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as part of their overall wellness strategy. Yet, many leaders were discouraged by the low rates of EAP utilization, which hover between 5 - 10% according to multiple studies.

In the face of growing mental health challenges, many HR and benefits leaders are asking how to boost employee confidence in EAPs and maximize the value of the benefits they offer.

What are Employee Assistance Programs?

EAPs are a workplace benefit that provides confidential support to employees facing personal or work-related challenges. From mental health crisis support to counseling for substance use disorders, marital problems or child care issues, EAPs assist with a wide range of life stressors.

According to the Department of Labor, employers can save between $5 to $16 for every dollar invested in an EAP. Despite the tremendous potential for these resources to provide timely assistance, nearly half of employees are unaware if their employer offers this type of service. Even when employees know about the program, they might not fully understand all the services their EAP offers. This makes it less likely that employees will use the service when it’s needed.

Furthermore, the fear of being judged or seen as weak can stop employees from seeking mental health support. Even though EAPs promise to keep things confidential, the worry of being perceived negatively can prevent workers from getting help.

Getting the Most Out of Your EAP

We asked benefits experts and leaders across the Health Action Alliance network for their advice to maximize the value and impact of EAPs. Here’s their top tips:

  1. Assess for awareness.
    Does your workforce know that your company offers an EAP? And if they do, are the services widely understood? You can get a pulse on these questions and other barriers that might be preventing employees from using EAPs during annual engagement surveys, meeting polls or conversations with your workforce.

  2. Repetition, repetition, repetition!
    Don’t stop with a pamphlet in your employee’s onboarding packages. Include reminders about EAPs in leadership communications, as part of staff meetings, on company bulletin boards, in parental leave letters and as part of your emergency response alerts. Invite counselors or representatives from your EAP provider to host workshops and discuss benefits at company events.

  3. Address concerns about access or stigma.
    Make sure to emphasize that EAPs are free and confidential for your workforce. Normalize use by highlighting that EAPs are not just for those in crisis. EAPs offer a number of services to support overall well-being, including childcare or eldercare support, emergency preparedness, financial counseling or assistance with legal challenges.

  4. Extend eligibility for families.
    A loved one’s mental health crisis can have a significant impact on how an employee shows up to work. Consider extending eligibility of EAP services to domestic partners (regardless of marital status), children and/or elderly family members, and ensure that your provider is equipped to offer comprehensive services to meet the needs of your employees’ loved ones.

    BONUS TIP: For Pride Month, take an opportunity to review and promote your EAP mental health offerings for LGBTQ+ adolescents and their families.

  5. Make it fun.
    Create opportunities for your employees to become acquainted with your company’s EAP services through engaging presentations and workshops. For Mental Health Action Day, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota hosted a virtual EAP scavenger hunt challenge to complete during working hours with a gift card incentive. Employees were surprised by how much content was available through the EAP website and BCBS saw an increase in their EAP usage following the event.

  6. Evaluate for effectiveness.
    Is your EAP service easy to use and understand? Does it offer the specific services your workforce needs? Are the services culturally competent? Mental Health America suggests a series of questions you can ask your broker or benefits provider when negotiating your annual contracts.