Employee Assistance Programs – Serving the Organization or the Employee?

Today, many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs, but few do it right. Here’s how I see the difference between an Employee Assistance Program that is provided to serve the organization and one that is provided to really serve the employees:

Diverse Couple Gaining Using an Employee Assistance ProgramWhat is an Employee Assistance Program?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are services offered, typically through a third party, to employees experiencing difficulties that go beyond basic health matters. For example, counseling sessions may be offered to employees experiencing stress, a death in the family, struggling with other emotional challenges or battling substance abuse. Sometimes counseling and education is offered specifically for people struggling with coworker conflict or even personal financial challenges.

Employee Assistance Programs that Serve the Organization

All EAPs seem designed to help employees. However, the reality is these services also provide many benefits to the employer. For example, studies have shown that companies with EAPs often see lower medical expenses. As a result, most health insurance providers offer a reduced rates for employers with EAPs in place. Furthermore, in cases of employee lawsuits, an EAP is often used to defend the company’s concern for the employee. As a result, the lowest-cost EAPs are often perceived by employers to pay for themselves and thus, offered as a free benefit to employees.

Here are some signs that your EAP may be in place to serve the organization, rather than employees:

1. Services Offered via Phone Only: We live in a generation of outsourcing. It’s no secret that providing counseling over a phone, where the counselor can be physically located anywhere, is much less expensive.

2. Limited Awareness: The employer does not promote the program and employees are often surprised to learn of available services. This suggests the employer is more interested in saving money than in helping employees.

3. Limited Duration: Most EAPs have time constraints. However, those with an especially short duration of free service are lower cost and therefore more focused on the employer’s interests.

4. Employee Initiated Only: The personal matters addressed by many EAPs are not often issues for which managers should be involved. However, if Human Resources and managers are not trained to recognize opportunities and share the benefits of an EAP, the program is likely primarily meeting employer needs.

Employee Assistance Programs that Serve Employees

EAPs that really focus on serving the needs of the employees look different. Examples of these EAPs include:

1. In Person Services: If counselors are local, the company is likely investing more to increase employee comfort level and quality of the services offered.

2. Frequent or Prominent Promotion: Having an executive speak about the program in a major company meeting has a much greater impact that a flyer in the Human Resource office.

3. Longer Duration: In contrast to the employer-focused EAPs, one focused on employees will typically last longer or, ideally, indefinitely.

4. Manager or Human Resources Initiated: An employer that really seeks to serve employee educates managers and Human Resources on EAP benefits and opportunities. More important, managers receive formal training on how to identify an employee in need of an EAP.

Be grateful for any Employee Assistance Program your employer offers. However, if you feel the program is more focused on helping the organization, consider speaking with your human resources representative about shifting that emphasis.

Question: Do you think your Employee Assistance Program is intended to serve the organization or the employee? Why or why not?

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Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

2 thoughts on “Employee Assistance Programs – Serving the Organization or the Employee?”

  1. Ben;

    Thanks for the article on EAPs.  I know that I am biased because I own Perspectives, an EAP and workplace resources provider but you really got this one right.  There is, as always a price to be paid for getting something for low price or free.  In person services, program promotion and training for employees and supervisors are key in a good program to help employees.  The one element that I want to clarify is that a good EAP can also serve the employer without hurting the employee.  In fact, if done well, employees with performance problems can be assisted by an EAP working closely with HR or management.  The employee can be helped to better perform at work by getting resources and assistance with issues or problems that might be interfering.  And this doesn’t have to occur with any personal information being shared with the employer.

    Again, thanks.

    1. Thank you for the positive feedback and great addition, Bernie. Perspectives sounds like a great organization. I especially like your tagline: “Our business is to keep your employees engaged in your business.” Thank you for contributing and keep serving.

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