What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?

At a glance:

  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a service dedicated to helping employees with issues related to health and wellness
  • Services provided include counselling for interpersonal issues, grief, trauma and stress, diversity, conflict resolution and management training, onsite assessment, substance abuse issues and more
  • EAP Services are fully funded by an employer, leaving the employee with no fees to pay to access this service, whether for work or personal issues
  • AP services are strictly confidential. Even if you wish to share information with your employer, it typically requires written consent 
  • EAP counselling is typically short term - between three and six sessions. If more counselling is required, the EAP may refer you to an associated mental health professional for further sessions

What is an EAP?

In 2020, life has become more...complicated. For the majority of people, the old routines have disappeared, to be replaced by an existence that may well be more cut off from regular contact than many of us are used to. 

With more people than ever working from home and feeling the pressure and anxiety that may come from a change from status quo and not having access to the kind of face to face, human contact that many of us took for granted as part of our jobs before the pandemic. That’s where an EAP comes in.

An Employee Assistance Program is a service provider by employers to employees, giving them access to confidential counselling with trained psychologists. These psychological services may be accessed for a number of reasons, ranging from minor psychological issues such as low moods, worries and motivational problems through to much more serious psychological issues like suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety and acute stress.

When do I Need EAP Counselling?

Although these services are accessed through work, the issue being discussed with the EAP provider doesn’t have to originate from work. Relationship breakdowns, sleeping issues, trauma and grief, and interpersonal issues both inside and outside work are all valid reasons for seeking assistance. All counselling is confidential, so even in cases that an employer may know you have accessed EAP services, the nature of the counselling and the actual counselling itself is private. 

Over the last five years, due to increased financial, social and global stressors, there has been a marked increase in the demand for EAP services in Australia, and with the advent of the pandemic and the corresponding increase in negative mental health effects, that demand has risen at an even faster rate.  

Employee Assistance Programs are also instrumental in helping minimise the long term effects of workplace incidents. A workplace incident is anything that places an employee’s mental or physical health at risk. Workplace incidents may not necessarily be violent in nature or result in physical injury to require counselling for employees. 

Critical incidents, such as business closures, mass layoffs, violent or frightening workplace incidents, injury or illness, natural disasters and even events outside the workplace that affect day to day life for many of employees are often unpredictable and may have a significant long term impact on the wellbeing of the workforce.  

In addition to traditional counselling services, an EAP may provide other services such as workforce wellness programs or organisational performance programs. 

EAPs aren’t necessarily only reactive, being accessed after an event. They may also be accessed as a preventative measure, offering training to reduce the chance of problems arising, or pinpointing potential issues that need to be corrected before they become a problem.

People spend around a third of their adult life at work, so ensuring that workers are happy and healthy, both mentally and physically makes sense on both a personal and practical level. A workforce wellness program may consist of regular health and wellness checks to pinpoint any problems before they become serious, supervised programs, learning seminars, onsite clinics and more.

Performance programs are geared more towards ensuring that a business is running smoothly, but a good deal of that revolves around ensuring that employees are happy, healthy and stress free. Making sure employees are content is a much more effective method of ensuring maximum performance than managerial pressure so a  performance management program is likely to include elements such as conflict resolution training, leadership training, health and wellness training/assessment, diversity training and the like.

How do I Access an EAP?

In terms of counselling, EAPs are best viewed as short-term, solutions-based services available 24/7 to employees for free. The number of appointments required will be negotiated but typically range between three and six sessions per person or group. In normal circumstances, sessions may be carried out face-to-face, but in keeping with the current COVID-19 situation, many EAPs now conduct a number of sessions via video chat or telephone.

If longer term counselling is needed, an EAP may make a referral through to an associated psychologist or other mental health professional. This associate is a trained and certified medical professional that is contracted to the EAP to deliver counselling and other psychological services. While the EAP itself is free, if you are referred to an associated mental health professional you may be responsible for the associated costs. If this is an issue, the EAP may be able to work with you to find the most cost effective solution available.

If your company has contracted an Employee Assistance Program provider, you will most likely have access to a phone number or website you can call to request counselling or other forms of help. If you do not have contact details for your company’s contracted EAP, your HR manager (or equivalent) should be able to supply you with them. With most EAP providers, family members that are affected by the wellbeing issues that have led to the employee seeking counselling are also eligible to access the EAP.

Depending on the help requested you may either gain instant access to a coach or trainer, or the EAP may schedule the first available appointment with an associated psychologist or other mental health professional. Any contact you have with the EAP is in strict confidence. Even if you wish to share details of your appointment or service with your employer, it typically requires signed consent on your part.

Benefits of Providing EAP Counselling to Employees

If your company does not currently employ an EAP, it may be time to suggest that management looks into entering a contract. While companies do pay for EAP services, research shows that seeing to the physical and mental health of employees has an excellent return on investment in terms of employee productivity. 

Recent reports show that employing an EAP may result in a return on investment in terms of productivity and reduced absenteeism. A 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on EAP ROI in Australia shows an average return of $2.30 for every dollar spent. 

If ROI is not enough to convince your management to invest in an EAP, Mental health conditions including stress, depression, anxiety and interpersonal issues in the workplace are major contributors to reduced job performance, sickness and absenteeism.

In Australia, untreated mental health issues, including workplace stress account for around six million lost working days a year and around 12 million days of reduced productivity. To put that in a stark financial perspective, that lost productivity is worth around $10 billion to Australian businesses.


Looking for a health expert near you?