Buyer’s guide to employee assistance programmes 2014

An employee assistance programme (EAP) can be an invaluable part of an employer’s health and wellbeing strategy.
Buyers guide to employee assistance programmes

The facts

What are employee assistance programmes (EAP)?

EAPs provide confidential information, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues. Support is traditionally offered around the clock by telephone, with a comprehensive service providing face-to-face counselling where necessary. Some schemes will also provide online support.

As well as helping to support staff, employers also receive management information through EAPs, which, although anonymous, can help them identify and tackle potential workplace issues.

What are the origins of EAPs?

They were introduced in the US in the 1950s to help employees tackle alcohol-related problems. As more comprehensive programmes, they made their way across the Atlantic in the early 1980s.

Where can employers get more information and advice?

The UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (UK EAPA) represents professionals involved with employee assistance, psychological health and wellbeing in the UK. Its website is .

What are the costs involved?

Costs vary depending on the breadth of the service and the number of employees covered, but figures from the EAPA show that a full-service EAP for an employer with 100 staff costs about £14 a year per employee.

The facts

What are the legal implications?

An EAP can help an employer to safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Although a Court of Appeal ruling in 2002 (Sutherland v Hatton ) stated that an EAP could protect an employer from being sued for stress by an employee, this was clarified in 2007 when judges said an employer had to do more to support staff than simply implementing an EAP.

What are the tax issues?

As long as an EAP satisfies HM Revenue and Customs’ definition of welfare counselling, it is regarded as a business expense rather than a benefit in kind. This means it cannot provide advice on areas such as finance, other than debt, tax, leisure or recreation and legal issues, or provide services directly to dependants, unless relating to an issue being faced by an employee.

What is the annual spend?

Almost £70 million was spent on EAPs in the UK in 2012, according to the EAPA.

Which providers have the biggest market share?

No figures are published, but the larger players include Axa Icas, Bupa Employee Assistance, Care First, Ceridian, CIC, ComPsych, FirstAssist, Oakdale Group, PPC Worldwide, PMI Health Group, Right Management Workplace Wellness, Validium and Workplace Options.

Which have increased their market share the most?

Without sales data, it is impossible to say.


16% of UK employees called in sick because of stress in 2012/13 (Friends Life research, October 2013)

£460m – daily cost to employers in wasted wages due to sickness resulting from stress (Friends Life research, October 2013)

19.9% – percentage of long-term absence caused by stress-related mental ill-health and home or family issues. (Group Risk Development, 2012 Employer Research )

47% – percentage of UK employees with access to an EAP (UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, EAP Market Watch , published in July 2013)

10% – average percentage of a workforce that will use an EAP, including online services (UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association, EAP Market Watch , published in July 2013)

By helping to safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing , employers can achieve increased productivity and lower sickness absence levels .

Almost half (47%) of the UK’s workforce now has access to an EAP, according to the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association’s (EAPA) EAP Market Watch report, published in July 2013, with a typical EAP providing independent, confidential advice and support around the clock by telephone or online.

The support provided can cover various areas, including psychological issues, debt and financial problems, relationship issues, childcare and eldercare, and legal worries.

Although most users will be provided with the information they need to resolve their problem or will be referred to independent support networks for additional support, in some cases, face-to-face counselling will be recommended. This is available with more comprehensive EAPs, and a series of up to six or eight counselling sessions is usually enough to help the employee.

As well as supporting employees, EAPs can also help employers to deal with workplace health issues. Many services will provide line managers with information and advice to help with any concerns they might have about employee health or employment issues.

Some EAPs have also developed training programmes, trauma management and mediation services to further support employers’ health and wellbeing strategies.

Employers can also derive management information from an EAP. Where a scheme is large enough to ensure that the data remains anonymous, a comprehensive EAP will give employers details on usage. This can help them to identify potential problems, for example high levels of work-related stress in a department or instances of bullying, and make changes to prevent such matters escalating.

Because of their ability to support employees, EAPs have also received government endorsement. In its response to Dame Carol Black’s and David Frost’s Health at Work – an independent review of sickness absence , published in 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions stated that EAPs are “valued by both employers and employees, and can be effective tools in tackling sickness absence ”.

Product development

Stress in the workplace EAPs

Although the core service of EAPs remains the same, providers have been developing new ways to deliver a package of advice and support to organisations. In particular, the internet is playing a growing part in service delivery, with many EAP providers offering websites packed with health and wellbeing reference information.

Providers have also spiced up the way that employees can interact with them. In addition to telephone-based services, some now offer support via SMS text services, online chat and email. For example, Ceridian launched an EAP mobile application (app) in 2013 that gives employees access to comprehensive health and wellbeing resources on their smartphones, as well as the opportunity to contact the helpline if required.

Offering such wide support is seen as vital to driving up usage. As well as suiting the way today’s employees communicate, this strategy recognises that some staff do not feel comfortable ringing a helpline to discuss a personal problem, preferring to email or text.

Some providers have also brought new products to the market. For example, Cigna UK Healthcare Benefits launched an EAP at the end of 2012 in partnership with Workplace Options. The scheme provides a dedicated line manager service as well as support and advisory services to employees and is available on a standalone basis or alongside any of Cigna’s other products.

Another development in the EAP market is the launch of a pay-as-you-go product. The scheme, launched by Manage Health, enables employers to select the services they require and, because there is no contract term, adjust or cancel whenever they want.

Employers and employees can also turn to the government for support with workplace health issues. Following a pilot in 2011, the NHS launched its Health for Work advice line. The free service includes a telephone-based helpline, but employers and staff can also access the service through an online chat function.

Price wars

The NHS’s Health for Work advice line is not the only free service available to employers. ‘Free’ EAPs are available through various other employee benefits, including health cash plans , group income protection (GIP) and private medical insurance (PMI) .

But although a free EAP can be a useful add-on, it may not offer the same level of service as a comprehensive EAP. Elements such as management information will be stripped out, making it difficult for employers to understand the nature of any problems raised and how they can address them.

Also, a free EAP might not be available to all employees. Employee benefits such as PMI or GIP, are not always universal, so by sticking with the free EAP that comes with these products, an employer might be restricting the number of staff that can use it.

Another drawback of a free EAP is low utilisation. Whether it is because only a select group of employees have access to it or simply because it is free, employers tend to overlook a free EAP and will not promote it to the workforce.

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Some insurers have recognised this and have taken steps to beef up their free services. Some will automatically extend EAP cover to all staff, regardless of how many use the connected product. For example, Canada Life does this on its group risk products, while WPA will extend its free EAP if at least 50% of a workforce has its medical insurance.

The availability of so many free EAPs is also putting pressure on prices. Although some cost reductions are a result of market growth and more efficient management, figures from the UK EAPA’s EAP Market Watch report show that the average price of a full-service EAP in 2000 was about £25 per head for a scheme of 200 employees, today it is about £14 per head for a scheme of 100, with a significantly lower cost for larger schemes.