Feature – Focus On Healthcare: The cost of EAPs

The cost of EAPs can vary considerably, and measuring their value for money in terms of spend per head can be an exhausting calculation to make, says Jamin Robertson

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The price and degree of service for employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can vary widely. Costs range from around £4 to £30 although employers can typically expect to pay around £15 per employee per year. EAPs should provide health advice to employees and access to qualified staff and counselling services.

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Views are split on the employee assistance programme (EAP) market, but some say there are providers which charge too much for what should be a low-cost benefit. This opinion is countered by those who claim low-cost providers are touting products that do little to support organisational health and wellbeing. So which view is right? EAPs can range in price from about £4 to £30 per employee per year. Steven Stanbury, managing director of EAP provider Work Stress Management, describes the lower-cost end of the market as being similar to budget airlines: it offers a basic product with reduced service levels. In practice, the lower-cost products are generally provided through call centres which employ administrative staff rather than qualified medical professionals, and provide telephone counselling in place of face-to-face sessions.

The EAP may also be provided on a pay-as-you-go basis. A standard EAP from Work Stress Management, for example, costs from £3.80 per employee. Calls are handled by admin staff, who then facilitate telephone counselling where it is needed. The service includes advice on medical, legal and financial issues. "We don’t replicate a great swathe of information that is out there anyway," Stanbury says. More expensive EAP services include a limited number of face-to-face counselling sessions, and extensive advice on legal, financial and medical issues, while qualified nurses often handle front line calls. At the higher end of the market, concierge services are also offered. Providers which offer such products claim an organisation can typically source this type of EAP from £15 per employee per year. Tony Urwin, clinical and business development manager for Bupa Psychological Services, believes that employers get what they pay for. "If they are going to do a full assessment before they make a referral, then that’s good quality and worth paying extra money for."

But rates will vary according to the number of employees covered, how many counselling sessions employers want to provide, the industry they operate in and the number of additional services on offer. Some elements of an EAP can also help employers to demonstrate a certain level of duty of care towards staff, Alex Bennett, head of healthcare for Aon Consulting, says: "The EAP should include a health information line, a degree of counselling, referrals through to specialist health advice, as well as access to GPs, and drug advice. Often there will be a legal and financial link. Better EAPs also have some kind of clinical assessment." Realistically, even a top-notch EAP will never present a standalone defence against employee litigation, but it will support organisational wellbeing in line with the Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards for work-related stress which were introduced in November 2004. Andrew Moore, occupational health manager at Standard Life, believes its EAP is just one plank in its wellbeing platform. "The EAP dovetails into health and safety obligations. It’s not there to replicate good management standards. It won’t do that and we don’t buy it for that." Once an EAP is in place, employers should actively promote it to prove employees’ health is taken seriously.