Last reviewed 30 October 2020

A look at how an employee assistance programme (EAP) works and what it can do for an organisation.

Mental health is an increasingly important issue for employees. Luckily, we also have an increasing awareness of what constitutes mental ill health, how stress affects people and how it can be managed.

Employers in the UK have a responsibility to support all employees with their mental health struggles and to promote wellbeing. One way to manage this is through an EAP.

What is an EAP?

An EAP is a work-based programme designed to help employees deal with personal problems that may affect their work performance, health and wellbeing.

It is free for employees to use and encourages them to get assistance for any mental health and life challenges. In essence, the service provides your employees with a support network.

Employees can contact the service directly, without their employer's knowledge. Most EAPs have a 24/7 phone line. It is a confidential service, offering employee health assessments, short-term counselling and other wellbeing services.

An employer's duty of care

It is a legal requirement for all employers to ensure the wellbeing of their employees; this is known as a “duty of care”. As such, managing employees' mental health, ie preventing workplace stress causing or aggravating mental health issues, is an important part of the role.

The UK considers some mental health issues to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Employers will need to consider making reasonable adjustments so as not to discriminate against people suffering with these issues.

Why do you need an EAP?

EAPs aim to help employees deal with personal problems that might negatively affect their work performance, health and wellbeing.

The issues discussed are often workplace issues but do not have to be. Employees can also get support for personal life issues, such as financial struggles, relationship problems or bereavement.

The focus of an EAP is assisting the employee to deal with these issues. It is an intensive problem-solving service, aiming at getting the employee back in a sound state of mind to perform to the best of their ability again.

This sort of support helps to maintain a healthy working environment and contributes to higher staff engagement with the company and improved productivity.

Staff members are also likely to be more loyal to an organisation when their health and wellbeing is a priority. This, in turn, improves employee retention rates.

How does an EAP work?

EAPs offer free health assessments, short-term counselling and referral services for employees and their immediate family. The specifics of the service may differ depending on the provider, but the core service will always be the same.

The core services consist of:

  • critical incident management: a debriefing procedure to help normalise the often overwhelming psychological, physiological and emotional responses to minor, moderate and severe critical incidents

  • counselling services: qualified counsellors providing short-term goal-oriented counselling, allowing employees to better manage their personal and work-life commitments.

Most EAPs have a 24/7 online or telephone contact. As well as dealing with emergencies, this service can help employees decide what type of assistance would be most beneficial. Individuals can then be referred for an intensive short-term form of counselling. The employer sets the number of sessions permitted.

There are usually also free specialised helplines for an employee to call for a one-off discussion or advice session.

Who pays for the EAP?

The employer pays for the EAP.

Cost can often be an issue in limiting what an employee can do to manage problems in their life. While counselling sessions can be prescribed by the NHS, there are often long waiting times — and going private can be costly.

An EAP gives employees an alternative, immediate route to get support. This support can help shorten the time they are affected by poor mental health, boosting their morale, that of their team and overall productivity.

Health Assured

Health Assured offers a comprehensive EAP in the UK and Ireland, with these services as standard:

  • free 24/7 counselling, legal and information line

  • health assessments

  • critical incident advice and telephone support

  • online health portal and access to the My Healthy Advantage app

  • relationship management support and usage reporting

  • management support line and counselling

  • manager support guides.

Contact Health Assured on 0844 891 0355.