An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) is a service that companies can make use of to provide information and support to their employees to help solve a variety of personal and work-related issues that may affect work and therefore their performance. This paper describes the benefits, costs and outcomes of an EAP, the lack of valid research underpinning its efficiency and the factors that organisations need to consider when introducing an EAP.
Keywords: Employee Assistance Programme ! Counselling ! Workplace
It is unequivocal that work has a big influence on employees. Unfortunately, this influence can both be positive and negative (Teasdale, 2006). To help prevent and limit any effects that might reduce performance or have other undesirable impacts on the employees and the business, a company can offer various services for employees to handle stress and other psychological disturbances. Companies can therefore implement some kind of workplace counselling, which offers a confidential place to speak about issues with a trained therapist. One type of counselling is the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a strategic service for employers to provide support to their workforce.
First, this paper is going to explain what an EAP exactly is and what services are offered. Then the benefits and reasons for implementing an EAP will be shown. Afterwards, the costs and possible doubts are described and brought into relation with the advantages in order to show if the model is useful and worth its costs. Finally, a guideline for factors to consider when implementing an EAP is given.
A Employee Assistance Programme is defined by the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) as a service to “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” (Employee Assistance Professionals Association, 2010, p. 6). Issues addressed include personal and professional relationships, harassment, fairness at work, emotional and health problems, alcohol and drug issues, financial and legal matters, and stress. Most firms provide different mediums for employees, mangers and family members to make use of their services, e.g. via telephone, email, online chats or face-to-face interviews (Clemmet, 2005; Employee Assistance Professionals Association, 2010).
EAP providers need to cooperate closely with all levels of management, especially the intermediate and senior level, the human resource department and occupational health services (Clemmet, 2005).
As an EAP is a service that is normally provided by a specialist external firm it has some advantages and disadvantages compared to an employee who is a trained in-house counsellor. The main advantages are its independence and confidentiality as perceived by the employees, the professionalism and experience of the provider as well as the high degree of support and convenience by not being depended on a certain time, location or medium. A downside might be, that external counsellors do have less inside knowledge of the company, which can make it more difficult to find solutions suitable for both employee and organisation (Clemmet, 2005).
EAPs grew very popular over the last ten to twenty years - by now, 47% of the working population in the UK has access to the service (Employee Assistance Professionals Association, 2013) and there are several reasons for a company to consider offering an EAP. The first one is to comply the common law of duty of care. This is mainly a result of a series of litigation cases, with the most relevant one being Hatton vs. Sutherland (2002). The judgement included the statement that ‘an employer who offers a confidential advice service, with referral to appropriate counselling or treatment services, is unlikely to be found in breach of duty’. A second case, Intel vs. Daw (2007), superceded this decision by adding, that it is not sufficient to offer a advise service, but that work conditions must me altered accordingly (Barrett, 2007). Therefore, a service like the EAP is the first step to help a company ensure the meeting of the statutory obligation and avoid compensation payments (Clemmet, 2005; Kinder, Nind, Aitchison, & Farrell, 2013).
The second reason is the increased productivity and performance. The EAPA explains, that 23 of the first 25 companies of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies offer an EAP and conclude, that it is essential for performance (Employee Assistance Professionals Association, 2010). The causality of this argument, however, is questionable. McLeod (2003) claimed to have evidence that the use of an EAP lowered sickness absence by 25%. Additionally, employees who used the option were “highly satisfied and believed it had helped them resolve their problem” (McLeod & Henderson, 2003, p. 103).
Finally, an EAP provides support to the workforce and has an influence on the image of a caring organisation to employees, stakeholders and outsiders (Clemmet, 2005). The programmes offered include a broad range of services (e.g. legal information, managerial consultation, telephone and face-to-face consulting, emergency childcare search) and, thus, have the potential to increase health, safety and well-being of the majority of employees (Kinder et al., 2013). Although a study conducted in 1998 (Highley-Marchington, Cooper, & Britain, 1998) showed that less than 25% of the problems discussed are work-related, most issues have the potential to affect their work behaviour and performance and therefore solving these problems will equally improve their situation. Arthur (2002) found out that a big proportion (over 85%) of employees using an EAP has serious mental health problems and that organisations meet a genuine need by providing this counselling service, although it might not be right tool to sufficiently deal with this kind of problems.