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What is an EAP? Everything you need to know

Written by Amanda Day
Amanda Day

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Key decision-makers in businesses focus on ways to improve efficiency, increase productivity, and lower costs — all in an attempt to push their company closer to success. 

But if your employees aren’t thriving, your business doesn’t either. 

An employee assistance program (EAP) is an initiative that provides support for employees through counseling and education. It can help employees navigate challenges in their personal and professional lives to ensure their continued well-being. 

By focusing on improving employee wellness, you can reach company goals without burning out out your team.

In this article, we’ll break down what an EAP is and its benefits, the most common types of EAPs, and challenges that remote companies often face when setting up EAPs. You’ll also learn how to set up a useful, accessible, and safe EAP for your global team. 

What is an EAP? 

An EAP is a confidential and voluntary service that provides support to employees who are struggling with personal or professional challenges. 

Originally created in the 1940s to address alcoholism in the workplace, EAPs have since expanded to help employees manage a wide range of issues, from mental health concerns to financial difficulties. 

Today, EAPs are continuing to evolve into holistic well-being programs that help employees navigate significant life events. The purpose of EAPs is to provide confidential counseling, referrals to community resources, and other forms of support. This helps businesses support their employees even during difficult times. 

Whether an employee is dealing with a personal crisis, a health issue, or a work-related problem, an EAP helps employees to get back on track. 

What support can an EAP offer?

Employees’ mental health is becoming an increasingly important concern for businesses, and for good reason. In Australia, work-related mental health issues cost the country’s economy around $467 million AUD. In the United States, 28% of employees are experiencing severe burnout. 

Without proper support, employees will continue to struggle with personal and professional challenges alone. This leads to negative outcomes for your employee’s well-being and also your business. 

EAPs can help employees with the following: 

  • Navigating family events: EAPs can provide support to employees dealing with a range of family issues and events. This can include divorce, adoption, childcare and elder care. 

  • Navigating problems with social or professional relationships: EAPs help employees navigate conflicts with colleagues or family members. EAPs can also provide resources for networking and relationship-building. 

  • Recovery from substance abuse: EAPs offer confidential counseling and referrals to help employees recover from alcoholism or drug addiction. 

  • Critical incident response: EAPs provide support to employees dealing with traumatic events, such as accidents or the loss of a loved one. This can help your employees cope and recover from difficult life events. 

  • Mental wellness support: EAPs offer resources and counseling to help employees manage stress, anxiety, and depression. This can help your employees maintain a healthy work-life balance as well. 

  • Financial advice: EAPs provide guidance on financial matters, such as debt management, making big purchases, and planning for retirement. 

By taking proactive steps to support your employees’ mental health, you create a healthier work environment. This leads to increased productivity, bigger success, and longer talent retention for years to come. 

What are the benefits of EAPs?

Here are just three of the many ways an EAP can benefit your company: 

1. Support mental wellness 

Despite heightened awareness of mental wellness, many employees still struggle with mental health issues at work. Others still lack the tools and resources to help themselves. In fact, fewer than 25% of people with depression have access to adequate mental health treatment. 

Even when employees do seek help, it can be scary to open up and ask for assistance. 

That’s why having EAPs can be so valuable. Specifically, EAPs can:

  • Help with mental health issues: EAPs provide support for those who struggle with mental health. EAPs can offer confidential counseling and referrals to mental health professionals. 

  • Offer financial advice to employees: EAPs provide guidance on debt management, budgeting, and planning for retirement. This helps manage stress and uncertainty that financial issues can cause.

  • Help with family planning: EAPs offer resources and support for employees who are starting or growing their families.

  • Improving work-life balance: EAPs help reduce stress by providing employees with tools for stress and time management. 

  • Provide support: EAPs can help employees deal with a range of personal or professional challenges, such as substance abuse, grief, and workplace conflicts. 

2. Assist HR departments in making informed decisions or changes

Building mental health and well-being programs does more than support the individual. These programs can also support human resources (HR) departments in making informed decisions and changes in the workplace as a whole.  

This means that your HR professional can not only help employees who are struggling, but also develop targeted strategies to prevent issues from arising in the first place. 

Employee assistance programs can help HR departments with decision-making by providing the following: 

  • Data analysis: They provide data and insights on employee well-being, such as trends in mental health issues, substance abuse, or workplace conflicts. This data can help HR professionals identify areas of concern and make informed decisions about policies and programs. 

  • Consultation: Some EAPs offer consultation services to HR departments, providing guidance on issues such as employee relations, conflict resolution, and crisis management. This can help HR professionals handle difficult situations with sensitivity and expertise. 

  • Training: Larger EAPs may also provide training and workshops to HR departments on a variety of topics, including mental health awareness, stress management, and diversity and inclusion. This can help HR professionals develop the skills and knowledge they need to support employees effectively, including spotting when someone might be going through a difficult time. 

  • Program evaluation: EAPs can help HR departments evaluate the effectiveness of their current HR programs and policies related to employee well-being, communication, and wellness initiatives or benefits. This can lead to HR departments making data-driven decisions about how to allocate resources and improve outcomes for employees.

3. Increase workplace productivity 

For teams to be consistently productive, it’s essential that they work in an environment that makes them happy and fulfilled. Unfortunately, even with the increased awareness of mental health in the workplace, 63% of US workers are prepared to quit their jobs to avoid work-related stress. 

It’s simple: without happy and healthy workers, productivity and team performance will suffer — and so will your bottom line. 

That’s why investing in employee well-being is so critical to the success of your business. Employee assistance programs let you do just that. 

EAPs can help increase workplace productivity by: 

  • Reducing absenteeism: EAPs help employees manage personal or professional challenges, so they are present during work hours. This can improve attendance and boost time spent doing deep work. 

  • Enhancing employee morale: EAPs help create a culture of support and well-being in the workplace. Employees feel valued, which increases their work motivation and productivity.

  • Address workplace conflicts and “toxic” culture: EAPs offer a safe environment for conflict resolution. This helps employees resolve or avoid conflict with fellow colleagues, which impacts productivity, energy levels, and focus. 

Types of EAPs

Not all EAPs are the same. Different companies, industries, or setups need different programs based on their unique needs and challenges. 

For instance, a company with a large remote workforce may benefit from an EAP that offers virtual counseling services. Meanwhile, a company in a high-stress industry may require an EAP that specializes in mental health support. 

The key is to choose an EAP that aligns with your company’s goals and values and addresses the specific needs of your employees. 

Types of EAPs

Type

Description

Pros

Cons

Internal

Run and managed by the company’s own HR team.

Can be customized to the company’s needs.  Easily accessible.

Employees don’t receive the same level of care as external professionals.

External

Run by an external provider. Operated under different models, such as pay-per-service, fixed-fee, and peer-based.

Access to specialized expertise for different concerns and health issues.

Less control over the program.  Difficult to find professionals in each location for your global team.

Hybrid

A combination of external and internal services. For example, you might have an internal EAP counselor who provides short-term counseling and referrals but also contracts with an external EAP provider for specialized services, like substance abuse treatment.

Greater control over the program. Tailored to the specific needs of the organization.  Access to a wider range of services.

More complex to manage. Can lead to different standards of care.

3 EAP challenges for global companies (and how to overcome them)

While there are many benefits to implementing EAP programs for global companies, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed beforehand. Without a proper plan in place, it can be difficult to ensure that all employees utilize EAP services effectively. 

1. Accountability and access issues  

With remote teams and employees working from different regions and cultures, it can be hard to effectively distribute information about EAPs. 

Companies might struggle to communicate that they provide EAPs to their employees. In fact, 11.3% of employees reported a lack of awareness as their reason for not using EAPs. 

Even if employees are aware of the EAP, they may face difficulties accessing it. For example, 53.1% of employees reported that difficulty accessing an EAP was the main reason why they did not use the program in the past. 

Accessibility may be due to language barriers, technical issues, or a lack of clear instructions. 

Effective communication is crucial when it comes to EAPs, no matter if they’re internal, external, or hybrid. Without clear and consistent communication that’s also inclusive and accessible, employees who particularly need the support of EAPs may be the ones who miss out.

Solution: Clearly communicate the availability of the EAP and what support the program offers. It’s essential that employees know that these programs are available to them. Unfortunately, 42% of companies direct employees to EAP support only when requested. Proactively champion EAPs and encourage your employees to make use of them. 

2. Scheduling difficulties due to different time zones 

Scheduling EAPs with a global team that works in different time zones or asynchronously can also be difficult. Not only do varying time zones make it challenging to find a time that works for everyone, but cultural differences can also play a role in scheduling programs. 

Different cultures have varying work weeks, public holidays, and mentalities toward work schedules. This can impact employees’ receptiveness to EAPs that take time but aren’t necessarily directly related to their work. 

Solution: Ensure you choose the right EAP model for your teams. Consider factors like your budget, your employee demographics, the size of your business, and the industry. Give your employees the time and support they need to access their EAPs, regardless of their time zone and culture. 

3. Employee hesitancy

Employee hesitancy is one of the main reasons why global teams underutilize their EAPs. Certain employees may have cultural beliefs that prevent them from accepting help for mental health. 

Cultural psychiatry is impacted by factors like stigma, shame, and fear of repercussions by family members or the “greater society.” All of these factors can prevent some employees from seeking out help, even if they need it. 

Solution: Let your employees know that your program is 100% confidential. Allow your employees to join an EAP in their own time without facing judgment, pressure, or ridicule. 

Support your global team with an EAP 

An EAP is an invaluable tool for supporting employees, even if they’re spread around the world.

With the right EAP in place, you can protect your employees’ mental wellness, improve your HR department’s ability to manage your workforce, and increase your company’s bottom line.

If you’re looking for other ways to support your remote teams, partnering with a global HR platform like Remote can help. We help remote teams from all over the globe streamline their HR services, manage their global workforce, and provide top culture-specific employee benefits based on employees’ needs and preferences. 

Learn more about how Remote can help you support your growing team. 

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