How to launch an employee assistance programme (EAP)

Owain Simpson, Content Writer · 03 Sep

Every employer in the UK has a responsibility to support employees with mental health problems and promote the mental wellbeing of their entire workforce. Here's how to launch a best-in-class employee assistance programme (EAP).

An employee assistance programme (EAP) is an employee benefit that enables you to help your staff with personal or workplace issues that might be impeding their performance. 

These issues might be to do with physical health issues or mental and emotional problems. The popularity of EAPs is growing. Since 2008 use of EAPs has grown by 68%. This is in line with the growing awareness of employers of the importance of good health in their employees. 

Anxiety, stress and depression are exceedingly common problems for employers in today’s working environment. More than ever we feel we have to give everything to our job and our personal lives, and even our health can feel like it comes second.

EAP help employees to counter these problems. If you can address the route-causes of poor physical health, mental health or emotional wellbeing in your employees then not only will you help them but you will indirectly benefit your business as well. 

Employee assistance programme

Why offer an EAP?

Introducing an EAP will make your business an employer of choice for the simple reason that it shows you care about your employees. This means you will make yourself competitive in attracting the best people.

There are then a multitude of returns on the EAP for the benefits they bring. It's well known that happier, calm and confident employees are going to be more productive and offer the best returns.

They are also less likely to be ill, go off absent due to stress or anxiety, and damage the motivation and workplace culture within their teams.

For all of these reasons it is clear that EAPs are an obvious tool for you to use to boost the performance of your business

Common components of a good EAP

Almost all EAPs contain a counselling service of some form. This is the primary service in an EAP and may be provided in house or be supplied externally. The role of the team that implements your EAP is largely to manage assessment of the wellbeing of employees and to refer those it is concerned about.

Employee wellbeing

Some larger organisations now employ in-house counsellors who purely works with their staff. However, the scale of your EAP will largely depend on the size of your company and the most effective way of providing the benefits. 

Your EAP should include a follow up service. This might be the responsibility of your managers or again by the counsellors used to deal with the initial problem. You might ask your line manager to check that the issues an employee has been experiencing are no longer affecting their health or wellbeing.

However, you must bear in mind that you aren’t piling more pressure on your managers and thus risking their health as well. The implementation of an effective EAP needs to be as well considered as the EAP itself.

Using managers for follow-up is a particularly effective tool to ensure solutions are long term. They will spend far more time with your employees than counsellors and be better placed to recognise problems. 

You might also want to look into the possibility of having group and team counselling to try and approach personal issues within your teams. These can include workplace bullying and strained relationships, both of which can significantly damage the moral of a team and severely damage its effectiveness. 

Finally, you should aim to prevent such issues arising, rather than just treating them when they do come about. This sort of strategy might mean asking managers to take on the extra responsibility of recognising strain and anxiety in their teams.

Employee assistance programme

Promoting your EAP

Alternatively, it might be as simple as raising the profile of your EAP and making employees aware that there are services available to them that can help relieve their anxiety, stress, depression or any other problem that is affecting their performance at work. The majority of EAPs function with self-reporting. Simply making your employees aware of the fact that you care, and that you want to help, may be half the battle. 

Other essential parts of a good EAP are that it should be totally confidential. This is in line with what you would expect from counselling but the referral process should also be anonymous and only those that need to know that an employee is taking part, for instance a line manager who might need to relieve pressure, should be aware that the employee is taking part. 

It’s also pretty clear that management’s role is extremely important for an EAP to be successful.

Without supporting your managers to perform the roles already explained the help offered to employees will not be implementable or you will end up having all of your managers using the EAP as well. This support will need to include time allowance to perform referrals, get to know and keep tabs on team members and to generally reflect on the health and wellbeing of their team.

Without this the opportunity to intervene early will be lost and most of the opportunity you have of improving performance through your EAP will disappear. 

Making your staff aware of the services on offer will also be necessary. You can achieve this in a number of ways, through email, leaflet or simply by word of mouth and spreading awareness of the service from the top down.

Employee assistance programme promotion

If you are using word of mouth you should ensure again that you have a good number of staff involved and on board with the programme so that discussion of the service can remain enthusiastic and recommendatory. 

Do they count as a taxable benefit?

It is important to make sure any EAP you offer as an employee benefit is available to all employees of your business, as opposed to particular groups such as managers or promoted team members.

This should keep the benefit within the exemption from p11d ‘Benefits in Kind’ taxation by HMRC. A couple of things are worth considering in addition to this. The access of employees’ friends or family to the EAP must be restricted to services such as couple or family counselling, where the issues that are being address are affecting the employee in question.

This will be covered by the exemption but further use by friends and family without clear effects on your employee would no longer be exempt as a benefit in kind. 

Additionally, legal advice, which may be used for relieving stress or anxiety must only be used in contexts where the mental and emotional welfare of the employee is affecting their performance at work.

Legal advice not affecting work would not be covered by the exemption. Care and discretion are essential in judging this as these issues can be very complex. If you are in doubt about when it is acceptable to offer these services as part of an EAP, without risking these benefits becoming taxable, you should contact HMRC to ensure you are acting within the exemption. 

Employee assistance programme tax

Evaluate

Once you have put your EAP in place, it's especially important that you continue to monitor its success and evaluate where it has space for improvement. To do this you might use feedback from those that have used the service.

You can also use external sources to evaluate its effectiveness from organisations that you are aware are already implementing a successful programme in a similar context to that of your business. It is essential that feedback should also remain anonymous.

Studies into the effectiveness of these services are often very positive in hindsight so it is also worth considering what you want your evaluation to show you. If it is a case of answering how your firm makes employees aware of the service, then asking all employees questions about this would also be a very good indicator of the scheme’s success.

Asking your whole company if they think the EAP is a good mode of support will answer a different question to a survey of only those who have used the service. The analysis of feedback should be handled carefully and conclusions drawn to inform improvement must be correct as the service can become incredibly important and in some cases is a literal ‘life saver’.

Employee assistance programme success

Final word

An employee assistance programme can boost your company’s moral, health and wellbeing.

This will in turn make your company more efficient and less vulnerable to employee absence. The implementation of an effective EAP is a delicate process that requires thought and consideration, it is also not something that can look after itself after being launched. To optimise its use, evaluation and ongoing analysis of its effectiveness will be essential.

This is an extremely effective tool for HR departments to improve the performance of their companies. The implementation of good programmes can save lives so it is well worth investing in an EAP.

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