In the U.S., nearly all (98 percent) of mid to large companies offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), but only about 4 percent of employees use them each year. To increase the use of EAP services among employees, it helps to thoroughly understand your EAP, including services offered, accessibility issues, and the percentage of employees who use these services.
For many employers, there are three main reasons why employees may not be using their EAP: (1) Employees are not aware that an EAP exists, what services are offered, or how to access these services; (2) Employees are fearful that their employer may be tracking their usage of services; or (3) the stigma of mental health and its association with EAPs prevents employees from seeking services. Here are some ways to address these concerns:
Awareness and Promotion
Put efforts behind educating employees on how to access their EAP and the services it offers through awareness and promotion.
- Find ways to share information about the EAP through your company’s typical modes of communication. EAP information can be shared during orientation for new employees, on the company Intranet, and in staff emails or newsletters periodically throughout the year.
- If your company hosts a mental health awareness campaign, ensure that information about how to access the EAP and its services are included on all campaign materials.
- If your company hosts a wellness fair, invite an EAP representative to discuss services and answer questions during the event.
- Ensure that supervisors are aware of the EAP services offered and know to communicate that appropriately when mental health concerns arise among staff.
Some employees may fear that using the EAP for mental health concerns is tracked by their employers and can cause issues with their careers. However, the employer must ensure that employees understand that it is against federal law for the EAP to disclose information shared by an employee with the employer.
- To help appease employees’ fears, be clear about any information that is collected and why and how EAP services are administered.
Stigma around Mental Health
By simply mentioning the EAP, employees may automatically write it off because its association with mental health is still highly stigmatized in the workplace.
- If your employees are aware that an EAP exists but usage is low, it might be time to rebrand from the traditional “Employee Assistance Program” to a new wellness program that promotes work-life balance.
- Highlight the other services offered in addition to mental health services, such financial planning education, family assistance, or caregiver resources.
- Emphasize that employees do not need to be in a crisis to use EAP services. (In fact, if an employee is experiencing an acute mental health crisis, they should call emergency services.) The intention of an EAP is to help employees maintain a positive work-life balance and serve as an additional support when life matters interfere with performing at their best at work.
- Encourage employees to take a free, anonymous, and confidential stress screener that employees can use to self-assess their level of stress. If they score high, recommend that they contact the EAP and provide clear instructions on how to do so.
Hanisch, S. E., Twomey, C. D., Szeto, A. C. H., Birner, U. W., Nowak, D., & Sabariego, C. (2016). The effectiveness of interventions targeting the stigma of mental illness at the workplace: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1), 1. doi:10.1186/s12888-015-0706-4