8 Tips for Finding the Best Employee Assistance Program

March 25, 2024

Employee Assistance Programs are top of mind for employers, they are the go-to benefit to address employee mental health and they offer expansive support services for workforce well-being. EAPs are also a key component to building organizational health, as they help address workforce challenge, performance issues, crisis response and creating a ‘great place to work’ culture.

8 Tips for Finding the Best Employee Assistance Program

When it comes to selecting the best employee assistance program for your organizational needs and goals, it helps to take a closer look at the program offerings, access options, pricing structure and ultimate vision.

Here are 8 tips for finding the best employee assistance program to help address your goals around supporting employee mental health:

1. Conduct an EAP needs assessment.

Finding the right EAP partner begins with a clear understanding of what you’re looking for, and what support services will make the biggest impact at your organization. Think about the whole health of your employees and your organization, including mental health, physical health, financial wellness, work-life and family care, lifestyle support and organizational health. What issues are affecting your people and teams the most, what are your current gaps in benefit coverage, and where do you hope the EAP can deliver the strongest support? Our “EAP Program Guide: Everything You Need to Know” is a great place to get started. 

2. Define your EAP goals.

For example, are your top goals to provide improved access to mental health support, strengthen employee engagement, or create a ‘great place to work’ environment that supports the whole employee–these are just some of the overarching goals to consider. If there are specific financial goals or KPIs, like reducing absenteeism, health care costs, or retention and turnover costs, clearly outline specific goals you’re hoping a strong EAP partner can help address.

3. Evaluate the full scope of EAP services available.

Some EAPs may only offer mental health counseling, while other more comprehensive EAPs offer life coaching, financial consultation, legal consultation, work-life and caregiving referrals, medical advocacy, personal assistant and concierge referrals, management consultation and referrals, crisis response, and training. Reviewing the employee assistance program benefits available, will help ensure employees receive appropriate mental health care, behavioral health services, referral services for life management, legal and financial consultations, and support for all issues affecting quality of life. High-quality EAPs also offer integrated wellness and health coaching, as well as robust organizational development solutions.  

4. Verify if in-the-moment support available in the EAP.

One of the most important aspects of an employee assistance program is providing access to in-the-moment support to speak with a counselor for urgent mental health needs. Make sure that immediate access to in-the-moment counseling is included in the program.

5. Review virtual care and in-person counseling options.

Virtual care options, especially for mental health sessions, allow for employees to access services from any location, at convenient times; while in-person sessions with licensed clinicians are also important and highly-effective in providing quality mental health care. The member experience should prioritize ease of access and multiple modality options for counseling and support.

6. Confirm your EAP account manager will always be accessible.

In times of crisis or urgent need, having an account manager on-call is critical. The best employee assistance programs make sure dedicated account managers are always available to respond, accessible by phone (you can always talk to a real person), and highly-responsive all year long to support your organizational goals and needs. From providing immediate crisis consultation in the event of a workplace tragedy to walking you through how to refer an employee who may be dealing with personal challenges to the EAP for professional support, your account manager should be your trusted partner, and always available.

7. Take a close look at EAP confidentiality and data security.

Many virtual and mental health care platforms have varying privacy and data sharing practices, some even sharing information with third-parties. It is crucial to ask the right questions up front and read the fine print, to ensure your employees’ information is never used for data mining or data sharing in any capacity, and prevent any liability issues. Confirm that all contact with the employee assistance program is private, in compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. Trust is essential, and the best employee assistance programs ensure the highest standards of confidentiality.

8. Ask for information on EAP program promotion and member engagement.

The key to driving EAP awareness, engagement and utilization is effective communication and program promotion practices. This may include a program kick-off announcement campaign, monthly newsletters, orientation and training, video promotion, social media marketing and ongoing awareness campaigns–especially for special observances like Mental Health Awareness month.

Understanding the Different Types of EAP and Mental Health Benefit Options

Each organization is unique, with specific goals for finding the best employee assistance program that will help address top mental health concerns and organizational priorities.

Each EAP is also unique in its scope of services and program offerings. There are a few specific types of employee assistance programs and mental health benefit options available:

  1. Embedded EAP Offerings – these programs are built-in to an overall insurance package or HR and payroll management system, and while they may check the box for an offering, there are some important limitations to be considered: limited EAP sessions; limited or no onsite support services included, limited or no EAP promotion or engagement campaigns, limited or no HR and Leadership support services for crisis response or training, and limited or no proactive EAP account management. Often seen as a low-cost EAP, they are also low-return by design.
  2. Digital Mental Health Platform – these new mental health apps and platforms are designed to disrupt access to mental health care, but often compromise care for the sake of disruption. With coaches instead of counselors, virtual-only sessions (no in-person counseling options), and growing concerns over data security and privacy, it is important to review the fine print. While the best EAP providers are in the business of mental health care, many digital mental health platforms are in the business of Big Data. They’re built as an engagement model, competing for attention, rather than built on connecting those in need to most appropriate care at the right time.
  3. High-Quality Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – Digital access to care with multiple modalities of support is already built into all modern, high-quality EAPs, and mental health apps can be a powerful complementary tool–but are not a replacement for mental health care when it matters most. High-quality EAPs include instant access to care with a Master’s-Level clinician to address various mental health issues, as well as ongoing employee assistance program sessions to address any personal challenges. While the digital mental health platforms often offer a limited number of sessions per year, and then the member is responsible for paying for continued care, the high-quality EAP provides a standard set of employee assistance program sessions, but for an unlimited number of issues per year. This means, one member can access support for any number of mental health issues that arise throughout the year.

Beyond member support, high-quality employee assistance programs support leaders and the organization in building mental health awareness, addressing workforce challenges like burnout, stress, and performance issues, and providing professional crisis support to help prepare for and respond to traumatic events.

Identifying your organizational needs up front, understanding what’s included in the program and what’s at an additional cost, and comparing various EAP components and service models will help in finding the best EAP providers and selecting the perfect-fit partner to suit your needs.

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