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January 5, 2024 | Blog

Maximizing EAP Effectiveness: A Guide for HR Directors

By Chad Charkowski

A lady giving presentation in a meeting

As an HR professional there is no shortage of things to do as we enter the New Year. Benefits, reviews, PTO and hoping the holiday party didn’t produce any extra work for you as well! With the New Year may come some new benefits or programs. Or maybe just highlighting underused benefits such as your Employee Assistance Program. 

While usage statistics vary from organization to organization, we can all agree that on average, even the best of EAP’s are currently below 6% adoption rates. We are going to dive into how you can help your employees utilize this crucial benefit without adding work to your plate. After-all, your EAP should raise the bar, not just check the box. 

Employee Assistance Programs Have Come A Long Way 

Employee Assistance Programs have evolved significantly since their inception in the late 1930s. They were originally designed as alcoholism rehabilitation programs before HIPAA was even a thought. If you are wondering where the distrust comes from, it may stem in some part from those early years.  

Thankfully, EAPs have expanded their scope over the decades, now offering a broad range of services that accommodate all lifestyles including marital, financial, legal, and mental wellness support. Despite their comprehensive nature and long history, EAPs remain underutilized, with studies indicating that only a small fraction of employees take advantage of these services. 

Trust Is The Catalyst For EAP Utilization

As HR professionals, you play a crucial role in the successful implementation and utilization of EAPs. Your strategic position within the organization allows you to bridge the gap between the programs themselves and the employees who can benefit from them. 

It is no secret that effective EAP management can significantly enhance employee well-being, reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity. So why is this program generally so underutilized? There are a few reasons, however, the biggest barrier for EAPs is the biggest barrier in all of life: TRUST. 

Without trust, nothing else works in any relationship. While you as the HR professional understand the confidentiality of your EAP program, your employees may not, or may not fully trust that it is completely confidential. This is where communication and transparency are critical.  

Strategies for Enhancing EAP Utilization

Showcase Partners As People: The HR world can feel like you are on an island at times, and having a strong relationship with your benefits providers is often crucial to your overall success. Call on those partners to provide webinars or lunch and learn opportunities to show there are real people who provide these valuable services. For instance, when you say, “Covenant Workplace Solutions is our EAP Provider,” that doesn’t resonate with employees. However, bringing in Zach or myself for an in-person EAP kickoff meeting, now you have a face with the name of the company and we all connect as human’s first. 

Ensuring Confidentiality: A major barrier to EAP utilization is the stigma associated with seeking help, particularly for mental health concerns. HR Directors must actively work to destigmatize the use of EAP services. It’s crucial to emphasize the confidentiality of these programs, reassuring employees that their privacy is respected and maintained. Explain what reporting you receive, and even have the EAP provider come and discuss this with your employees to give them peace of mind.

Educating Employees on EAP Benefits: One of the primary responsibilities of HR is to ensure that employees are well-informed about their benefits. This involves clear communication about the scope of services offered and how employees can access them. Organizations trust that we will be an extension of their team to take these things off of their plate!

Offering Multiple Access Points: We don’t need to tell you how diverse your workforce is. Catering to multiple generations is no easy task, however it is more possible today than ever before. To increase utilization, EAPs should be accessible through various means. This includes traditional in-person counseling, digital platforms or telehealth options, and group workshops. By diversifying access points, HR Directors can cater to different employee preferences and needs.

Keep It Top Of Mind: Perform a quick audit of your communication about your EAP and see if you talked about it at least seven times last year. If you are not familiar with the “Seven Times Principle”, the quick cliff notes version simply suggests that people need to encounter a message at least seven times before they act on it. HR can apply this principle to their EAP promotion, ensuring that the program is consistently and frequently mentioned across various platforms and meetings.

Ongoing Visibility: It’s essential to keep your EAP visible within the organization through regular updates, success stories, reminders in company newsletters, featured on intranet pages, and various email communication. Again, rely on your EAP partner to do some of the heavy lifting in providing engaging material, webinars and collateral for your EAP. 

Integrating EAP in Onboarding and Continuous Engagement

Introducing the EAP should be a standard part of the onboarding process, with a detailed explanation of how to access and use the services. New employees should be educated and comfortable with your robust EAP. It is the HR team’s responsibility to set the tone here early and often.

Beyond onboarding, continuous engagement strategies, such as regular check-ins and the highlighting of specific EAP features, can maintain employee interest and awareness.

Encouraging Leadership Support for EAP

Leadership involvement is absolutely critical in driving EAP usage. HR Directors should encourage company leaders throughout the organization to discuss the EAP benefits openly, share personal experiences if applicable, and set an example by utilizing the services themselves.

Leaders are asked to help more and more both inside the organization and outside with their employees’ lives. “I took it upon myself to learn more about our EAP because I am engaged at a personal level with my team members. I have referred, on average, 4 team members a year to resources within in our EAP member portal and I know that has helped retain them because we are invested personally and professionally,”

Team Leader – Current Client (Name & Organization Not Disclosed Due To Confidentiality) 

Embracing Digital EAP Solutions

In the digital age, EAPs have expanded to include various online tools and resources like those from Covenant Workplace Solutions, demonstrating the effectiveness of digital EAP solutions in increasing accessibility and engagement. 

Having a digital platform can increase adoption rates significantly, because employees are able to access everything at home on their own time where they are most comfortable. The dashboard and portal access offered by CWS is a great example of a robust offering that meets the needs of employees where they are, while being cost effective as well. 

Tailoring EAP Services to Organizational Needs

Selecting the right mix of EAP services that align with the specific needs of the organization and its employees is crucial. This could range from support for personal growth or career development with one of our certified life coaches to managing work-life balance. Including a few well-chosen services from a broader list can make the EAP more relevant and appealing to all employees, not just those struggling with their mental wellness.

With Your New EAP You Should Not Be Alone

In the HR world there is so much you are responsible for and you should not feel alone. Monthly EAP newsletters, quarterly roll-outs and reminders, lunch and learn options, and management support is what should be expected from your EAP provider. 

Choosing the right partner is just as important as choosing the right EAP. We hope you found this guide helpful and welcome a conversation to see how else we can help you in your workplace!