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Pros & Cons of Employee Assistance Programs

Amelia Wilcox
September 2, 2021
October 9, 2022

If you’ve ever had an EAP at your company, perhaps you’ve experienced some of the pros and cons of an employee assistance program. While these programs provide much-needed mental health support that helps keep employees working, healthy, and happy, there are also issues with the current structure of most EAPs. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).  

What are the Pros & Cons of Employee Assistance Programs?

For your staff to perform at their best, they may need support in areas such as mental health, drug or alcohol addiction, financial wellness, and so much more. If employees have issues in these areas, they will likely begin to impact their performance at work if they go without treatment.

EAPs were introduced to keep staff focused and productive while on the clock by providing mental health care to help process and solve these issues in their personal lives.

Related Reading: Employee Assistance Program Frequently Asked Questions

But traditional EAPs have been around for so long that some things about their structure don't make sense.

10 Cons of EAPs

If your EAP provider comes with a lot of these drawbacks, it may be time to rethink your EAP.

1. Low utilization

Shockingly low utilization rates (4.5% is the current industry average!) mean that staff isn’t really using these services. And it isn’t because they don’t have problems -- stress and anxiety are only continuing to skyrocket. So why isn’t EAP use rising with it?

2. Poor communication

That leads us to the second issue—poor communication. Most EAPs are happy to keep employees in the dark about how valuable EAP services can truly be and profit from the low utilization rates.

3. PEPM structure

Most traditional EAPs are structured for payment as PEPM (per employee per month), which means that the less they are used, the more profit the EAP makes! This structure is not designed to benefit the end-user.

Related: How Much Do EAP Programs Cost?

4. Non-specific services

Some EAPs offer services that are too general to appeal to users. For instance, a traditional EAP may provide substance abuse services but not in-depth information on what that service entails. Often, these services are too broad to appeal to a specific issue an employee may be dealing with.

Look for EAPs that have counselors who specialize in certain areas, like depression or relationship struggles.

5. Management is not allowed to partake

Often management is excluded from EAP services in typical EAP structures. Managers need care, too—especially when so many others are relying on them for their work.  Managers should be a part of the EAP program to keep in touch with employee wellbeing at the company and learn how to discuss mental health with their direct reports.

6. Complicated access system

When employees want to access EAP services, they typically have to go through HR (which can be embarrassing for a staff member experiencing a crisis!), plus additional screening by intermediaries at the EAP. This is sometimes followed by a referral process.

Complicated processes mean support can be delayed. It makes it challenging for employees to navigate the EAP services and get the help they need.

When access to care isn't straightforward, employees don't bother using the EAP.

7. Expense

While many EAPs are covered by the company and free for the employee, some are not. If employees have to pay, that increases entry barriers and excludes many people who need these services.  

8. Non- confidentiality

An EAPs confidentiality is a big concern to consider when choosing a program. Many employees worry that when using a company program, the EAP will not keep their information confidential.

9. Poor reporting

It can be hard to find the data you need to prove ROI and show that your EAP is actually worthwhile. That’s often because EAPs don’t want you to see quite how low their utilization numbers are.  

10. Effectiveness

Many EAPs provide an insufficient number of sessions per employee need. Only 2 to 3 sessions is the norm! For many people and many issues, that isn’t enough.

But, when an EAP is done right, it can have many excellent benefits for the employees it serves.  

9 Pros of EAPs

If your EAP is creating a lot of these benefits for your team, you know you're in good hands!

1. Increased productivity

In one study, over 70% of employees reported improved productivity after using the EAP! And 69% of employees with low or moderate productivity increased their productivity to higher levels after using the EAP. When employees get the support and learn the coping strategies they need to feel better; employees can focus on their work and leave worries behind.

2. Decrease in feelings of depression

Almost 80% of EAP participants with depression reported an improvement after using an employee assistance program.

3. Absenteeism drop

A recent study published in the International Journal of Health & Productivity found that absenteeism dropped 27% for workers who used an EAP.

4. Employee engagement goes up

Employees' engagement at work grew 8 percent, while life satisfaction jumped 22 percent when using an EAP.  

5. Decreased dependence on alcohol

The percentage of employees at higher alcohol risk levels dropped from 30% to 3% after EAP treatment. After using an EAP, 89% of employees who used or abused alcohol were considered low risk.

6. Reduced cost (or no cost at all!)

If your company sets up their EAP right, all these benefits are available to your staff free of charge! It’s worth investing in your team when you see how many benefits an EAP can have on your people and your company culture.

7. Virtual benefits anywhere

New EAPs are changing the game with virtual services! That means your staff can access care any time they need it. Apps and online access make signing up for sessions and receiving mental health support much more accessible.

8. Awesome reporting

Along with going digital, EAPs can provide accurate data that shows just how much, how often, and how effectively staff is using the services provided to them by their EAP. These insights will help you take care of your team better in ways outside of your EAP service.

For instance, if you notice a spike in therapy appointments among your team, offer a company-wide mental health day!

9. Unlimited access

Similarly, new EAPs offer extra benefits, so it’s not just counseling you’re signing up for! Companies can receive access to everything from virtual yoga, guided meditation, along with counselors and life coaches to guide them through any challenges.

While the old EAP structure isn’t benefiting employees as much as it could (or should!), new EAPs are changing the game with easy access, fun services your staff wants, and virtual platforms that make it all simple. When deciding what EAP, you should go with, consider this pros and cons list! Not every EAP is created equally, so make sure the one you select has way more positives than negatives. Don’t make the mistake of paying for an EAP your staff never uses.

Curious how an EAP would work if you took away all those cons and replaced them with nothing but positives? So were we. That’s why we created the un-EAP and structured our program around your company goals.

We want to be on your team! That’s why we incentivize higher utilization rates, do the heavy lifting to communicate with your staff, and get them on board. Plus, transparent data reporting, fun services, and an online library of mental and physical health-boosting content are available anytime, anywhere.

Stop stacking benefits. Start being well. Set a Nivati demo


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Amelia Wilcox
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.