Nearly all organizations offer their workforce an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Yet, employee utilization of EAPs is minimal with average use at less than 10%. This is unfortunate, because utilization of EAPs is related to reduced absenteeism (missed days from work), increased work engagement (which is linked to a lower likelihood of turnover), and increased employee life satisfaction. We know that employees are struggling, so why aren’t they taking advantage?
First, your employees may simply not know or remember that the EAP exists. While organizations often introduce the EAP during new employee orientation, this information can get buried by the many important topics and materials that are covered. Even if employees recall that the EAP is available, they may perceive that its benefits are only for those who are “really struggling.” In fact, many EAPs include wellness benefits across multiple areas of life, including education and coaching towards work-life balance, subsidies for gym membership and exercise classes, and even party or vacation planning. Organizations will want to reacquaint staff to the EAP often and through multiple communication channels.
In addition, employees may fear what will happen if it is discovered that they are accessing the EAP. Stigma against mental health conditions is prevalent in the United States, especially among healthcare workers. Staff may be ashamed of needing or seeking help. They may worry about the social consequences of seeking help, like co-workers or leadership treating them differently. There is also strong professional pressure among healthcare workers to put their own needs aside and appear to “have it together” to patients and colleagues. Organizations will need to demonstrate to staff that their emotional health is a priority and that all EAP use will be confidential.
To better encourage staff to take advantage of the benefits offered in the EAP, experts suggest:
Communicate often and through multiple channels (e.g., posters, emails, videos) about the EAP’s offerings, referral process, and procedures in place to protect confidentiality
Train managers on effective ways to have conversations with staff about stress, emotional health, and the role of the EAP
Promote the EAP as an “everyday resource” by including broader supports like conflict resolution and communication strategies, stress management, personal coping skills, links to virtual support groups, and advice about other needs like legal, financial, or childcare
Take care to describe the EAP in ways that do not further stigmatize mental health. Avoid terms like “mental illness” or “psychological disease” and opt for terms like “mental health”, “emotional health”, or “wellness.”
Consider “empathic rounding” where EAP and HR representatives walk the floor to introduce themselves and the EAP’s services to staff. This can help to build relationships with staff, increase trust and communicate that the organization prioritized wellness and use of the EAP.
Agovino, T. (2019). Companies seek to boost low usage of employee assistance programs. SHRM HR Magazine. Accessed from: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/winter2019/pages/companies-seek-to-boost-low-usage-of-employee-assistance-programs.aspx
Polyak, A. (2021). How Centura repositioned its EAP to boost everyday workforce well-being. Advisory Board. Accessed from:https://www.advisory.com/Topics/Staff-Engagement-and-Burnout/2021/04/How-Centura-Repositioned-Its-EAP-to-Boost-Everyday-Workforce-Well-Being