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July 7, 2020 Amelia Wilcox

What is an Employee Assistance Program—EAP?

Maybe you’ve heard of Employee Assistance Programs — or EAPs, but it’s likely you’ve never used one before. That’s because even though EAPs are a 4 billion dollar industry, and 78% of companies have an EAP, utilization is only 4.5%! These programs are intended to provide support for employees, but many people have no idea that they exist, or what they are. 

What is an Employee Assistance Program—EAP?

So… What is an EAP?

An Employee Assistance Program or EAP is a workplace program that employees can participate in voluntarily. They typically offer confidential resources and counseling for everything from stress, grief, and physiological disorders, to addiction and even anger management. EAPs help address issues before they impact an employees ability to work productively. They are there to make sure employees receive care before issues impact their job performance. 

All that sounds great! And with stress at an all-time-high (COVID-19 pandemic, furloughs and unemployment could stress out even the most zen among us) employees need programs that support their mental health more than ever. But if employees don’t know these programs exist, are uncomfortable asking HR to connect them with the care they need, or don’t get as many sessions with a counselor as they need, their EAP program isn’t doing its job!

EAPs were initially created to help employees with alcohol and drug abuse issues in the late 1930s. Over time, they’ve developed to support employees experiencing a wide range of issues. In our ever changing work environments, with COVID-19 introducing growing issues such as anxiety, relationship issues, traumatic events and other emergency response situations, effective programs needed to grow to address a wide range of topics. Employee assistance programs now even assist with financial and legal related issues.

EAP Services Include:

  • substance abuse
  • occupational stress
  • emotional distress
  • grief counseling
  • life events (ie. pandemics, births, accidents, deaths)
  • health care anxieties
  • financial 
  • legal
  • family/personal relationship problems
  • work relationship issues

However, this expansion of offerings is one of the only ways EAPs have updated their structure over time! Most EAPs have stuck to the same business model for 50 years or more. And here’s the issue with that — it was designed to benefit the EAPs bottom line, rather than the health and happiness of employees. Because typical EAPs are more profitable the less they’re used, it’s important to find an EAP that has your company and employees best interests at the top of their priority list. 

While EAPs are not direct health care, COBRA regulations apply to EAPs that offer medical benefits such as direct counseling and treatment (not just referrals, which many EAPs stick to). The other non-medical benefits that EAPs provide, such as legal counseling or guided meditation, are taken out when calculating the COBRA premium and coverage.

EAPs are covered by the company — so they are at no cost to the employee. And when they’re actually used, they’re great to have. The use of an EAP can result in an average decrease in absenteeism of 27 percent. This is a big deal, because absenteeism related to stress costs employers $225.8 billion each year! And stress related to work is the nation’s leading workplace health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Psychiatric Association says 1 in 5 adults will struggle with mental illness during their lifetime — so this is a service that a majority of employees will need at one time or another. 

Employee Assistance Program or EAP is a workplace program

Benefits of EAP:

  • Easy and direct access to psychologists
  • Confidentiality, the employer will not know who is using the service
  • Management consultation
  • Happier, more productive staff

A full service EAP should give employees the help they need to work through a range of issues, so that they’re able to remain on-the-job and productive. EAPs have traditionally been available not only for the employee, but also the employee’s partner and or children as well depending on which employee assistance program your company chooses. EAP counselors also work in a consultative role with managers and supervisors to address not only employee challenges, but organizational needs as well. However, a typical EAP offers up only an average 2.3 counseling sessions per employee need. That means if an employee is in need of support they only have 2 or 3 sessions to work through their issues. That’s not a lot! 

Since EAPs are typically prepaid by the employer, companies can be spending thousands of dollars on a service that isn’t getting used. While services can be conveyed via phone, video, email, chat or in person, often staff has to go through HR and a third party to get their sessions scheduled. Many EAP providers leave communications with staff about their services up to the company. And most companies aren’t communicating about their EAPs very well. All this adds up to those low utilization numbers. So while these programs do a lot of good when they’re actually used by employees, EAPs have a long way to go in order to connect with staff and truly provide holistic care! 

Learn how Nivati has changed the traditional EAP into a program that truly helps employees.

Call 1-800-556-2950


Amelia Wilcox

Amelia Wilcox is the Founder and CEO of Nivati, a leader in corporate massage and employee mental health support since 2010. Her high-growth B2B company provides employee stress management tools that arm businesses with actionable data and positive employee experiences to improve wellbeing, boost morale, and increase engagement.

Amelia has exponentially grown her company from a solo living-room service business to an international technology brand.

Recently listed as a Forty Under 40, Fast 50, Inc 5000 Twice awarded National Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Massage Therapist since 2002
Member of American Massage Therapy Association
Served on Utah Worksite Wellness Council from 2012-2015

Attended Utah College of Massage Therapy
Educated in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Utah

Massage Magazine (AMTA's publication)