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Have EAPs reached a tipping point?

Woman sitting on couch with child and laptop next to her

What does the next-generation EAP look like?

Here’s an interesting fact: employee assistance programs (EAPs) have been around for close to a century. First established to help deal with occupational alcoholism1, EAPs evolved over the years to include short-term services like financial and legal help. 

Today, another evolution is underway. This time, the EAP is having to adapt to reflect the impact of events of the past few years on the health and wellness of employees. A recent Gallup study showed that notable exhaustion and stress resulting from the pandemic has led to burnout being the biggest issue facing employers in 2022. 

In the article, Have EAPs reached a tipping point?, which was published in the December 2022 issue of Benefits and Pensions Monitor, Roee Ben-Eli, RN and director of strategic programs at TELUS Health, discusses what the next-generation EAP looks like, and how it can address the needs of today’s employees. 

The changing EAP landscape.

A 2021 study by Beyer and Dyme found that traditional EAPs have been used extensively for mental health support. But with mental health needs on the rise for over a decade, EAPs of the past are not equipped to meet the demand. 
“The pandemic is definitely the biggest agent of change,” states Ben-Eli. “COVID-19 exposed the gaps in our support systems across the board, driving increased demand for services for mental health and psychosocial needs and challenging the traditional support systems built into EAPs.” 
The framework of the EAP is also changing from episodic employee support to a holistic, personalized wellbeing program. “The next-generation EAP includes features such as flexible mental healthcare solutions, access to primary care, health risk assessments, a library of dynamic content, peer support, personal wellbeing challenges and employee rewards all rolled into a single access point,” says Ben-Eli.
According to Ben-Eli, the EAP must be a responsive modular program that can adapt and scale as employee needs change. “The ability to add-on or switch out certain parts of the offering is a big advantage that technology has enabled,” he says. 
TELUS Health LifeJourneyTM, an enhanced employee and family assistance program, is an adaptive solution that offers a mix of digital, virtual and in-person services allowing for the escalation of care when necessary, and step-down care options when ready. The service includes virtual care and mental health solutions, in-person specialty services, occupational health, wellbeing resources, and work/life balance assistance. 

Reshaping the company EAP. 

Here are some steps that can help guide the process to redesigning a company’s EAP.

  • Take stock of what you already have in terms of employee benefits and resources, and identify gaps.
  • Survey employees on what their current needs are to see if your current offering aligns with their values and priorities.
  • If they don’t, reach out to health partners, a broker or consultant to redesign your EAP.
  • Launch an effective communications strategy to raise awareness of your new solution and constantly encourage employees to take advantage of it.

There are many EAP solutions available to employers, which can be daunting to navigate. When evaluating solutions, it’s important to select a health partner that can adjust to and support an organization’s changing needs as they evolve and guide your internal communications strategy. 

Employee engagement is critical to EAP success.

One measure of success for any EAP is employee engagement. A well-constructed, well thought-out EAP will still result in low utilization without a strong communications plan. Managers must be trained on how to raise awareness among employees and encourage use of available resources to help create and maintain engagement. 
Naturally, when evaluating the success of an EAP, return on investment (ROI) is top of mind for employers. Traditionally, ROI is based on financial outcomes, but there are other ways to evaluate the impact of an EAP.
According to a study that looked at workplace outcomes of EAP usage published in the International Journal of Health & Productivity, for employees who used an EAP:

  • absenteeism dropped 27 per cent; 
  • engagement at work grew 8 per cent; and
  • life satisfaction grew 22 per cent.

These numbers reflect a more complete picture of the benefits of investing in employee wellness and overall business performance, which is where the real value lies.

Read the full article in Benefits and Pension Monitor (page 14).