While, as a business owner, you are probably familiar with the concept of employee assistance programmes (EAPs), whether any particular EAP implemented by your company is being used to its best potential by your staff remains its own question.

Research suggests that EAPs are often used relatively sparingly. This could spur suggestions that they pose an unnecessary and gimmicky expense – but do the facts bear this out?

The somewhat gradual rise of employee assistance programmes

The genesis of EAPs can be traced back to the United States in the 1950s, where and when these solutions were aimed at helping workers to resolve alcohol-related issues. However, in the decades since, the remit of EAPs have broadened, allowing them to tackle a much wider range of problems.

Unfortunately, this fact could well be lost on many employees. Employee Benefits cites research revealing that, on average, employees’ EAP usage level is just 5%. That research is detailed more fully in an article for Personnel Today.

According to that research, which took place in September 2016 and surveyed 88 UK employers on why and how their workplace’s EAPs were being used, many of these employers thought their employees treated the EAP largely as an “insurance policy” or “backup” for when a problem arose.

How the value of an EAP can become clear

While the managers reported that most of their employees seem to attach little importance to an EAP, this attitude was drastically different among those workers who had actually used one.

“You never know that you really need it until the time comes. It is probably one of the best wellbeing programmes that we have, but whether or not anybody feels like that depends on if they have needed to use it,” one respondent explained.

Of the 12% of surveyed organisations that reported not spending on an EAP, 33% said they sought evidence that EAPs improve wellbeing and productivity. However, 62% of users of the Employee Assistance Programme from LifeWorks have reported improved workplace productivity, while 94% of people achieve their goals following counselling with LifeWorks.

How employers can encourage greater uptake of EAPs

While line managers could theoretically help to promote EAPs, there are limitations to this strategy.

In the above-mentioned research, one HR manager reported that a line manager tasked with distributing leaflets to team members instead left those leaflets on display for workers to take. Another participant insisted that, as line managers already faced heavy workloads, they were not quite as ideally positioned to promote EAPs as might often be assumed.

Perhaps one reason why employees rarely take it upon themselves to use EAPs is that HR managers often struggle to position EAPs as offering support for much more than mental health issues. Therefore, employers could benefit from opting for an EAP that engages 100% of their workforce.

Ideally, employers should look for a modern EAP that proactively educates on how to effectively overcome a range of issues, including legal and financial affairs that could play on employees’ minds even outside their working hours.