Do Employee Assistance Programs Work?


Many organisations provide support for staff mental health and wellbeing by offering access to workplace Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). But if as an employee I reach out to my workplace EAP to seek help and support, how effective will the service be?

Stigma, fear of being treated differently, confidentiality fears, and so on, are barriers to employees seeking help for mental health concerns. In this article, we look at research that investigated the impact of Employee Assistance Programs on reducing employee depression and anxiety and whether improved symptoms lead to improved work performance.

The results showed a significant reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms for staff who utilised their Employee Assistance Programs. This research also looked at whether accessing the EAP for risky alcohol use was effective in reducing dependence symptoms and found that there was no positive link, mainly because employees with addictions are unlikely to seek help via their EAP. Because of this finding, for this article, we will focus on the results around depression and anxiety and the usefulness of accessing Employee Assistance Programs.

Further reading: In April 2019, an Editorial titled Managing workplace mental health authored by Dr Susanne Bahn was published both in print at J Health Saf Environ 2019, 35(1) and online by the Journal of Health Safety and Environment, The Editorial included a discussion on the effectiveness of the EAP and the barriers that employees encounter in using these services.

Depression and Anxiety – A Huge Cost to Society, Employers and Workers

The biggest cost to employers from employees with depression and anxiety is lost productivity while they are at work, which extends to the work culture and environment affecting others around them. Employees with these symptoms also tend to miss days off work. The analysts at Mental Health Australia and KPMG note in the Investing to Save Report that:

  • 20% of Australians in any given year experience mental ill-health
  • Mental ill-health costs the economy $60 billion a year
  • Investment in workplace mental health could improve workforce participation rates by as much as 30%
  • 73% of people with workplace mental illness took five days or more off work
  • 25% of the workforce suffer mild depression resulting in 50 hours of absenteeism per person each year, which increased to 138 hours off work for a further 8% who suffer moderate or severe depression.

Read our article, It’s Time to Link Employee Wellbeing to Productivity.

The Role of Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs offer counselling services at no cost to the employee. With private services overwhelmed and in constant demand, EAPs are often more easily accessible and timely. Their services are required to remain confidential, however, to gain access can require the employee to request assistance through their manager or supervisor who acts as a barrier to seeking help. More needs to be done to provide employees with confidential access.

This study found that employees who access Employee Assistance Programs had improved clinical outcomes including improved productivity and reduced absenteeism after receiving one-on-one counselling services because their mental health symptoms had been addressed. However, on average only 3-5% of employees access their EAP when they need help.

Read our article, Why Social Sustainability is a Strategic Advantage.

How Can e-Mental Health Help?

Providing Employee Assistance Programs is a reactive measure. Organisations seeking prevention measures to maintain and improve employee mental health need look to intervention programs. There is some evidence that workplace cognitive-based therapy (CBT) intervention programs can help to improve employee wellbeing and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms. However, most interventions require substantial amounts of face to face teaching or group training time, ranging from single four-hour sessions to a year-long intervention of redesigning the work environment. This is costly in both time and resources, however, KPMG argues that rolling out e-health CBT could see savings to the economy of $442 million.

There is also some evidence that e-health technologies may be able to assist in meeting some of these practical challenges.  e-Mental health interventions deliver components of psychological therapies through teleconference/telephone, video-conference and/or internet-based apps with no one-on-one relationship with a clinician. e-Mental health programs can be highly effective, particularly for mild to moderate mental illnesses. Safe Work Australia recommends that they should now be considered part of a mainstream workplace mental health service delivery portfolio, not just an add-on. KPMG noted that e-health interventions have the potential to deliver an ROI of $1.60 for every one dollar spent.

For businesses investing in workplace mental health, e-mental health interventions remove barriers typically experienced in traditional and face-to-face interactions including:

  • low cost
  • fidelity of the intervention process
  • reduction of stigma and increased privacy
  • accessed anywhere and self-paced
  • positive impact on symptoms of major depression, panic disorder, social phobia and general anxiety.

 There is an opportunity for Australian mental health treatment and support to genuinely embed e-mental health as a recognised service delivery mode, optimising cost effectiveness, reach and access.

Read our article, Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work.

The Tap into Safety Platform Improves Mental Health Literacy

Tap into Safety‘s mental health literacy training is an example of an e-mental health technology that offers mental health training delivered online and via smart devices, anywhere, anytime on relevant workplace topics that impact mental health using fun animation, gamification and interaction. For businesses investing in workplace mental health,  the solution helps by intervening early to support worker mental health better by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training.

The Platform offers information on where to reach out for support including a recommendation to access their Employment Assistance Program Provider. Clients using the training have seen increases in help-seeking by 100% as shown in the product evaluation conducted in 2017. By encouraging help-seeking early, we reduce the escalation of serious stress claims. This assists employees to tell us when they are not well or not feeling as good as they should.

With our flexible per use ‘credits’ model pricing, you simply pay for what you use. You have immediate access to all mental health literacy courses for employees and supervisors.  You can purchase any number of credits at any time, that you can use within a 12-month period, before they expire. When you use credits, there is no set-up fee or lock in contract.

Most importantly, once a business is registered on the Tap into Safety Platform, employees can continue to access the support resources, at no charge to the business. Organisations only pay for the training that they use in their mental health and wellbeing campaigns and on-boarding activities. Try a free demo.

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