Buyer’s guide to employee assistance programmes 2015

The ability to provide confidential advice and support makes an employee assistance programme (EAP) a powerful tool in an organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy, delivering benefits to both staff and employers.
Employee Assistance Programmes

Central to an EAP’s operation is a confidential telephone line. This is available around the clock, providing staff with advice and information on a variety of matters, including psychological issues, relationship problems, addiction, childcare, eldercare, debt and legal worries.

Most employees will be able to access support by phone or online, but an EAP can also refer staff for face-to-face counselling if necessary. This is available in more comprehensive EAPs, which may include a series of up to six or eight counselling sessions.

Supporting employees

Just how effective an EAP is at supporting employees can be seen in research published by Capita Health and Wellbeing in June 2014. Analysing data on more than 3,500 employees that used an EAP in 2013, it found the percentage that were struggling with workplace pressures fell from 51% before counselling to just 5% afterwards.

Capita also found that an EAP improved employees’ engagement with work, with just 20% saying they had lost interest after counselling, compared with 68% before. Also, just 33% of employees said they were struggling with concentration after using the service, compared with 75% before.

As well as using an EAP to help safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing, employers can also benefit. A healthier, happier workforce means lower sickness absence rates, increased productivity and higher levels of engagement.

Supporting line managers

An EAP can also help line managers to deal with any concerns they might have about employment issues or employee health. Some EAPs have even developed specialist support for employers, including trauma management and mediation services.

A further benefit of EAPs to larger organisations is the management information that they yield. As long as the scheme is large enough for the data to remain anonymous, an EAP can provide an employer with details of the service’s usage.

This management information can give the employer an insight into potential problems in its workforce, for example high levels of work-related stress, bullying or low morale. Armed with this knowledge, it can make changes or adapt a health and wellbeing programme to prevent any issues from escalating.

Growth of the EAP market

The recognised benefits of EAPs have seen the market grow significantly in recent years. Figures from the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) show 8.2 million employees had access to an EAP in 2008, but by 2013 this figure had risen to 13.8 million. This is equivalent to almost half the UK workforce and includes 23 of the top 25 organisations in the Sunday Times 100 Best companies to work for .

Also, Employee Benefits’ The Benefits Research 2014 , published in May 2014, found that EAPs are one of the most popular core benefits offered to all staff, so it is not surprising the EAPA expects to see further growth in the market. It predicts that in 2015, about 16 million employees will have access to EAP services.

Large employers that have launched EAPs in the last couple of years include Whitbread, which rolled out a programme to more than 40,000 staff in 2014; Northern Powergrid, which introduced a scheme for its 2,670 employees; and Oxfam, which launched an EAP, provided by CIC, for its 1,300-strong UK workforce.

Free EAPs

As well as employers realising the benefits of EAPs, the market’s growth has also resulted from EAPs being added to other health-related benefits. An EAP is now often provided as an added-value freebie with products such as a health cash plan, private medical insurance (PMI) or group income protection.

But the quality of these free EAPs varies greatly. Some will provide access to face-to-face counselling and management information, but these elements are often stripped out.

Further complications arise where an EAP is not available to all employees, for example where it is attached to a voluntary benefit or is part of the medical insurance offered only to management. Although some providers will automatically extend a free EAP to all staff, if it is available only to a subset of employees, the service can be difficult to promote, which leads to low utilisation.

But this is not only a problem for free EAPs. Although these offer support across a range of areas, the number of employees that pick up the phone to call can be pitifully low. According to the EAPA, average usage is about 10% of the workforce, and 16% is considered high usage for an EAP that offers online and telephone support.

There are ways to push up usage, however. Regular promotion of the service and the areas it covers can remind staff to use it, but EAP providers also recommend including the service in line manager training.

If line managers have referral to the EAP as one of their tools when dealing with employees, the number of service users will increase. For example, EAP provider Validium found that where it promoted this, utilisation rates increased to as much as 40% among its clients.

Access to online services can also help to increase usage, and an increasing number of EAPs now include online resources.

Logging into a service is simpler and less personal than speaking to a person, and this facility is particularly popular among younger employees and men. Because of this, many EAP providers have taken steps to reach out to these groups.

For example, Ceridian launched its LifeWorks mobile app in 2013, giving employees access to comprehensive health and wellbeing resources via their smartphones, as well as the opportunity to contact the helpline if required.

The growth in the EAP market, coupled with pressure on price and the demand for more and more services, means consolidation among providers is likely in the next few years. Although this may take some of the more niche players out of the market, it will give those that remain the scale to deliver what employers and employees want.

The facts

What are employee assistance programmes (EAPs)?

An EAP provides confidential information, support and counselling to staff with personal or work-related issues. The service is available around the clock by telephone or online. A comprehensive EAP also provides access to face-to-face counselling if necessary. An EAP can also support an employer. As well as providing advice to line managers, it can produce anonymous management information to help an employer identify and tackle workplace issues.

What are the origins of EAPs?

EAPs first appeared in the US in the 1950s to help employees tackle alcohol-related problems. They made their way to the UK, in a more comprehensive format, in the 1980s.

Where can employers get more information and advice?

The UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association ( represents individuals and organisations concerned with employee assistance, psychological health and wellbeing.

What are the costs involved?

Costs depend on the number of employees and the breadth of the service, but the average annual running cost is £14 per employee for a comprehensive EAP, according to the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association.

What are the legal implications?

A Court of Appeal ruling in 2002 (Sutherland v Hatton ) stated that an EAP could protect an employer from employees’ stress claims, but this was clarified in 2007 when judges said employers needed to do more to support staff than simply offering an EAP.

What are the tax issues?

An EAP can be regarded as a business expense rather than a benefit in kind as long as it satisfies HM Revenue and Customs’ definition of welfare counselling and is not provided directly to employees’ dependants, unless in relation to an issue being faced by an employee.

What is the annual spend?

The EAP sector is worth about £70 million, according to the EAPA.

Which providers have the biggest market share?

No sales data is available, but the larger players include Axa Icas, Bupa, Capita, Care First, Ceridian, CIC, ComPsych, Optum, Right Management Workplace Wellness, Validium and Workplace Options.

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Which have increased their market share the most?

This is impossible to say without any sales data.