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August 13, 2021 Amelia Wilcox

The Step-by-Step Guide to Increase EAP Utilization

And Improve Employee Mental Health

Why is it that most companies have EAPs, yet most employees never use them? Let’s unpack the mystery of EAP utilization and what your company can do to get employees on board.

The Breakdown on EAP Utilization

Here are some stats that will help us better understand the environment companies and employees face today.

  • 25% of employees have a diagnosable mental health disorder
  • 60% of employees report symptoms of a mental health condition every year
  • Only 50% of employees ever seek help for their mental health struggles
  • 97% of companies with 5,000+ workers, 80% with 1,001-5,000, and 75% with 251-1,000 have an EAP program, yet the average EAP utilization rate is only 4.5%

Even though most employees have access to an EAP, the half that actually seek help usually don’t go to their company’s EAP for support.

Why is EAP utilization so low when employee mental health struggles are so high?

Why is EAP utilization so low?

EAP utilization consistently hovers below 10%.

In short, EAP utilization is small because most EAPs fail to address the barriers to mental health care.

There are two main barriers to mental health care: structural and attitudinal.

Structural Barriers

Structural barriers include things like cost of care, therapist availability, and poor EAP user experience.

Your EAP should help your employees overcome the structural barriers to mental health care. Here are the structural obstacles and what you should know about them:

Availability

We’ve heard companies complain of EAPs that took weeks to pair an employee with a therapist. Some EAPs fail to create therapist appointments for employees at all or even return client calls.

It’s not uncommon to wait 10 weeks for an initial therapy appointment. Your EAP should decrease this to less than 48 hours. Otherwise, most employees won’t bother.

Poor User Experience and Inconvenience

Getting help should be as simple as possible. The less friction there is, the less resistance there will be to getting support.

The best EAPs provide easy access to employee counseling, meditation sessions, life coaching, fitness tools, and other wellness resources.

Virtual EAPs provide easier access to care and remove barriers like transportation as well. Online wellness platforms allow employees to make appointments quickly and easily – and without talking to an intermediary.

Intermediaries

Most EAPs require employees to talk to a middle man like HR before setting a therapy appointment.

This deters many employees from seeking help. The fear of being found out is real. Many employees worry that they will lose their jobs if they book a therapy appointment.

Cost

The average cost of a therapy appointment is between $75 and $150.

Most EAPs take care of the cost of therapy and other mental health services for employees. Yet, many employees do not realize this!

It is common for people to assume that EAPs are like healthcare benefits – they require a copay or deductible. Communicate that EAPs are separate from health insurance and that using EAP services will not cost them anything.

Keep in mind that some EAPs do not address other costs such as time lost finding a therapist or scheduling through intermediaries, as we mentioned before.

Attitudinal Barriers

This is where your company comes in. EAPs should help overcome the structural barriers. The employer needs to do the work to help employees overcome the attitudinal barriers.

The best EAPs address both.

Companies that strive to overcome these attitudinal obstacles experience an increase in EAP utilization.

Confidentiality Concerns

Many employees worry that therapists will share personal information with their employers.

To overcome this fear, make sure to communicate to employees that:

  • Privacy laws like HIPPA require EAPs to keep employee information confidential.
  • Employees are encouraged to use therapy and EAP services and that you will not evaluate them differently because they seek help. Even better, if your EAP allows total anonymity, communicate as well.

Low EAP Awareness

Many employees aren’t aware their employer offers an EAP program as a benefit.

This is a common problem for large companies. HR leaders have a lot on their plates, and promoting an EAP internally may not be a high priority.

Here are some easy ways to get the word out.

  • Add EAP info to your company onboarding program, resources, and knowledge base.
  • Emphasize that accessing EAP resources is free of charge.
  • Train your managers on how to use the EAP. Chances are, many of your managers may not know your EAP exists either. Make your managers advocates for mental health and teach them how to talk about mental health with their direct reports (more on that in a moment).
  • Talk about your EAP at meetings. Remind employees about the resources that are available to them. During your company’s busy season, send an email or instant message to employees reminding them that they can access counseling and other resources to help them cope with their stress during this time.

The Mental Health Stigma

About 60% of employees haven’t spoken to anyone at work about their mental health struggles. Not even once.

There are many reasons for this. Employees may be afraid that they will be treated or evaluated differently because of their struggles. Some employees assume their coworkers won’t care or understand.

Others downplay or deny how much their stress is affecting them. There is still a massive stigma around talking to therapists. Many believe that talking to a therapist won’t help or that their stress or anxiety will improve on its own.

The reality is this: talking about mental health helps us heal. Isolation does not help.

Here are some things you can do to fight the mental health stigma in your workplace.

  • Create peer support groups (led by managers or designated mental health leaders at your company) where employees can talk about their mental health struggles and tools that have helped them cope.
  • Have your company leaders talk about their experiences with mental health.
  • Encourage employees to take mental health days.
  • Educate employees on mental health. Tell them about self-care ideas and the importance of exercise and eating well.
  • Have a counselor talk to your team about the importance of mental health and how to address it.

How to Increase EAP Utilization in 4 Simple Steps

The main EAP utilization obstacle we see is this:

Companies don’t make any changes to improve employee mental health other than tacking the EAP to their benefits package.

If companies want their EAPs to work, they need to make mental health and wellness a priority.

man-surfing-cellphone-in-city-park - The Step-by-Step Guide to Increase EAP Utilization

We’ve mentioned a lot of ways you can encourage employees to use your EAP more. Here are 4 simple, high-level steps to keep in mind as you improve EAP utilization.

1. Determine if your current EAP is a barrier or a pathway

Does your EAP help you overcome the barriers to care? If they don’t, they are a barrier.

What are your company’s mental health goals? Set measurable goals and see if your EAP provider is helping you reach them.

EAPs should help your company overcome structural and attitudinal barriers. If they don’t, then you need to look for a new EAP or mental health program.

2. Make mental health part of your company dialogue

Your company can be a supportive community for your employees.

At Nivati, we talk about mental health during our one-on-one meetings. We’ll ask each other how we’ve been coping. We’ll even bring up what has been stressing us out and provide each other reassurance and ideas for self-care.

Make mental health a priority in your workplace by allowing mental health days and providing an EAP that gives employees the support they actually need.

3. Update your processes

Make EAP education part of the onboarding process. Properly introducing people to the EAP will increase awareness and utilization right off the bat.

Create reminders for HR to check in with the team about the EAP and how it is working.

4. Train and teach

Train managers on EAP usage, its importance, and how to talk about mental health at work.

Like we mentioned before, bring in a counselor to talk to your team about mental health and why it is crucial! You could also try having a meditation session to kick of your weekly team meeting.

Teach employees how to take care of themselves and give them opportunities to do so. Create exercise groups and competitions. These are great for building morale and opening the door to more personal conversations surrounding mental health.

Check out the Manager Training Handbook for a one-stop guide to training managers about mental health at work.

The Un-EAP Way

Traditional EAPs don’t address the barriers to care.

Modern EAPs do. Mental health and wellness programs increase utilization while charging employers less the more they use it.

Are you interested in using Nivati for your EAP needs? Already a Nivati client? Check out these articles on the EAP search and implementation process and other common challenges HR leaders face right now.

Amelia Wilcox

Amelia Wilcox is the Founder and CEO of Nivati (formerly Zenovate) a leader in corporate massage since 2010. Her high-growth B2B company who’s platform 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.

Awards
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

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

Publications
Massage Magazine (AMTA's publication)  

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