EAPs vs “FREEAPs”
By Patrick Gaul – Manager of EAP Operations for Ease@Work (An AllOne Health Company)
The world is changing. In his 2005 book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman described the globalization of the economy and suggested ways that the United States could manage globalization through adaptation.
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) industry is changing, too. Human Resource (HR) professionals should take note of this transition in the industry, as the concept of an ever-evolving EAP must be understood in order to ensure your organization is receiving the fullest benefit from your EAP.
At first glance, one of the biggest changes has been one that many in the C-Suite would consider a positive. EAP’s are now available for much less money than they once were. In fact, an EAP is no longer something that has to be purchased at all, as it is given away for “free” by many in the benefits industry. This can be a positive trend for some companies like small groups or groups in financial crisis that would not otherwise be able to pay for an EAP. Having 24 hour access to a counselor to support employees and/or management is something that no company should be without. Most HR professionals understand though that most of these “freeaps” (pronounced free APs), as I like to call them, do not benefit their organization or their employees in the same way a full service EAP does EAP
Each HR professional probably has a slightly different take on why they would prefer a full service EAP over an add-on program. But, the reality is that the price difference has reached a critical tipping point, where the perceived differences in price often make it impossible for the HR person to overcome the differences in services. (Please note I say “perceived” because free isn’t really “free” when the true cost of the freeap is built into the premium or base price of the service it’s being added to – such as a health insurance premium or payroll service.)
“An EAP is a critical link in the success of an integrated strategy, in that the EAP links health to workplace performance. It is the unique quality of an EAP, but it is often overlooked,” said John Burke, a thought leader in the EAP field and principal of Burke Consulting. (The Changing Nature and Future of EAP’s, Journal of Employee Assistance, 2nd Quarter 2009.)
In the same article, Jodi Jacobson, chair of EAP specialization at the School of Social Work, University of Maryland said, “As the field works to redefine itself, one of our biggest challenges is how to change or improve the face of employee assistance so that we are seen not only as a ‘nice’ additional health benefit, but as a program that is strategically integrated with the larger workplace.”
My personal experience has taught me what Jacobson says is very true. Most people I speak with agree that our EAP is a “nice” benefit for employees, but that’s not usually the reason a company purchases it. Organizations invest in us because we can become “strategically integrated” into the workplace of each of our customers, and because we are an important link between health and workplace performance. AllOne Health provides special training for managers as well as HR professionals in order to guide them through this integration. The bottom line is, this integration must be intentional and deliberate. It takes work on the part of the EAP and the EAP customer’s management team.
As a manager at Ease@Work – an AllOne Health company – with responsibility over Sales and Marketing, I would like to transform the person who believes an EAP is a commodity into a person who understands their organization does not really have an EAP if the program filling the “EAP role” is not strategically integrated into the workplace and producing in a positive effect on workplace performance.
So, the question is, how do I explain this essential difference to HR directors or other leaders in an organization? If I were to try this in a cold call, it would go something like this… (cue the harps and soft focus edit to a man on the phone)
Me: “Hello, is this the Human Resources Director?”
Me: “Does your company have an EAP.”
HR: “Yes, we get it free with our ________.
Me: “Is it strategically integrated into your workplace, resulting in a positive effect on workplace performance?”